Liam's Reviews > Peru

Peru by Gordon Lish
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Jul 26, 2011

it was ok
bookshelves: c20th-postwar, downbeat, quick-reads, trippy
Read in July, 2011

The narrator of 'Peru' (1986) tells the reader a confused mixture of two stories; one of his murder of a playmate at the age of six, and the other of an accidental injury he sustained aged fifty at the hands of a clumsy taxi driver from Peru, leaving him brain damaged (it is implied). His attitude to his juvenile crime is cold, peripheral and without compunction. He is more interested in the smells and sights that caught his eye that day than he is in the motives or consequences of his part in the tragedy.

He flits without warning between the present day, where he is a father and husband, and the memories of his childhood. Oddly, his childhood recollections are far more vivid than those of his recent accident. His telling of the story is full of strange redundancies, pointless tangents and is told with a vague ineloquence.

The story is enormously frustrating in that Faulkner-influenced way - giving you context for what you're reading about only after you've been guessing for dozens of, sometimes over a hundred, pages. There's this constantly raised issue of the 'taxi' where... look, there's no benefit of enjoyment (trust me) of going into this book not knowing this, so I suggest you read this 'spoiler':

Here is what happened- we lifted the footlocker up together and we got it into the trunk together and then I went to lean back in to get something off the top of the footlocker while he was slamming down the lid of the trunk.


This is only revealed 5 pages from the end of the book. Until this point you really have no idea whether his injury is in 1940 or the present day; whether it is intentionally caused or accidental; whether it is to his knees or his head; whether it is his own taxi or a dangerous driver... it's all so pointlessly withheld. The Sound and the Fury is one of my favourite books of all time but I'm beginning to think whether it's done more harm than good in the long run. By the end of this book you feel cheated for paying attention so closely. There is no resolution for much of the mystery - not least the significance of 'The Roof' and the prison in Peru. The narrator has no humanity to identify with, and so the way in which it deals with serious subjects just feels downright nasty and morbid on behalf of Lish.

'Peru' is an engaging exercise in style which tricks you into imagining substance with an unearned gravity of subject matter. Without any talent for storytelling, the novelty of the prose quickly outstays its welcome and the tension collapses from the inconsequential characterisation.
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message 1: by Robin (new)

Robin Ganderton The Lishfather is the grand patriarch of modern literary minimalism!


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