I wanted to read some Dale Peck novels because when I picked up a Rick Moody book at the library the other week and looked into its press, I found out that Dale Peck wrote a scathing review of Rick Moody’s work circa 2003 that was infamous for its opening line “Rick Moody is the worst writer of his generation.” and I love a good takedown. I also wondered then, if this is Dale Peck’s position on Rick Moody, how does his own work stand up. This is his first novel, and I have to say, Dale Peck’s work stands up pretty well. This is a novel told in long and short short stories about the two central figures, Martin and John, as well as some various other people in their lives. John is the primary protagonist and when the novel begins…well the novel begins with his birth and moves onto his early youth. But in this section we see the fractured and dangerous relationship of his parents, their subsequent dissolution, and his being pulled in two different directions from their splitting. His mother marries Martin, and even before the marriage is finalized Martin and John have a sexual encounter. I say it this way because while from the reader’s viewpoint it’s clearly a statutory rape, the tone of the novel, which involves John creating an emotional space for this encounter and because John has already slept with a much older (much older than himself, as well as Martin, who is about 15 years older than John’s 13 in the novel) man beforehand and so John does not treat the encounter the same.
This spurs the rest of the novel which is told through various future encounters and pseudo relationships as John grows older. There’s not a lot of reckoning with seeing this initial moment as trauma, but instead the novel is clearly positioned as (and Peck says as much in the introduction) as a coming out novel (from 1992) and the structure, the format, and topic itself doesn’t fit neatly into a reading of this as trauma. What I mean is: even if we see it this way, the novel itself and John resist this. And it’s hard not to take the novel as it is. It’s the kind of novel I would likely need to read some criticism of to help further shape my thoughts on.