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message 1: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (last edited Sep 28, 2012 10:01AM) (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Discuss.

Originally published in TriQuarterly 42 (Spring 1978).


message 2: by Aloha (last edited Dec 01, 2012 03:13PM) (new)

Aloha | 497 comments SUMMARY

Larry Shearson is an 18-year-old college freshman who lives in the same building as Jim Mayn. He refers to himself in an impersonal “one” to reflect being a statistic. He is sitting in Professor Rail’s Economics class. This chapter is heavily loaded with economic terms as Larry’s mind weaves in and out of noting the lecture and using economic metaphors when thinking about his relationships. Larry has a lot on his mind. Larry is unhappy with the new dynamic of the “ruling junta of their Open Marriage”, his parents’ marriage. His parents, Sue and Marv, have recently separated. Sue, due to Grace’s influence, declared that she is a lesbian. They decided to try an O.M. (open marriage). Larry resented his mother causing chaos to the family’s dynamic by trying to discover herself as a feminist and a lesbian, and seeking a “new marriage” in which she can explore those aspects of herself. Against being pegged in any category but herself, she asked Larry to not call her “mom”, but “Susan”. She also said that “Larry ought to get laid”, aping Grace’s Body-Self line. He is perplexed by his father’s acquiescence to his mother’s demands, and by his willing loss of patrimony. To Larry, they are taking a huge risk that can result in loss of assets. He wonders whether the goods substitutions here will result in maximum satisfaction. At eighteen and starting college, he bucks against his mom reminding him of “homework” as if he was still a child, as opposed to “assignment”, which signifies a “production-possibility frontier” in which he will soon become part of the Gross National Product. He wonders about his value in this family. “At this point one’s father no doubt thinks Larry is less valuable than Susan, but by corollary of the law of substitution Larry is cheaper and more plentiful”, since his mother is no longer available to his father.

Besides his parents’ tenuous marriage and his mom’s recent coming out, his thought turns to twenty-three-year-old Amy, a recent college drop out who he has a crush on. Amy is working as an assistant to the Chilean economist Mackenna. Larry flashes back to his recent phone call with Amy, when she asked for Jim Mayn’s phone number and address. Jim is taking Larry to the game. He ponders over his jealous feeling and wondering why Amy asked him questions that she could have asked Mayn directly. In his class sits the attractive Mary Minsky who Larry considers not as attractive as Amy. She draws the attention of Larry and Rail. Larry wonders about the price since the demand has increased but the supply has not.


While Professor Rail was enthusing about classical economics, illustrating Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand and the laissez-faire policy, Larry’s classmate Donald Dooley challenged him, “But what will this neutral policy-science of yours do for those unknown statistics that don’t get their fair share of the gross national theory?” “No tools are neutral,” Rail was saying...” And made points defending his position. “Rail’s points were two (but do they fade as one makes them, Amy?)” Donald argues against those points, “You’re telling us those curves defend the workingman under capitalism but you know as well as I do except it doesn’t freak you out that they secretly annihilate socialism, as those curves whatever you call them are next-door neighbor to that Italian Pareto whom you yourself would never call a Fascist maniac”.


After Rail’s class is over, comes the scene of the Chief golfing. More economics graphs, curves, and analysis, telling how everything is affected nationally and globally, from Operation Adoption in Asia to steel workers unions, to international intrigues. This thought goes to the South American economist-in-exile whose wife is linked with the women in Grace’s workshop. These events all somehow link and merge, “if the system has outdone itself by projecting these three events congruent less with the ‘handiness’ of Adam Smith’s old-fashioned limb the Invisible Hand than with its twin trait of being as out of sight as the old and ancient system behind big-board stock exchanges...”

It seems Larry told Amy of what he sees as the parallel events because Amy responded with “Are you saying that these three events are linked by something like marriage or the breakdown of marriage?...”


message 3: by Aloha (new)

Aloha | 497 comments This is the chapter that McElroy strongly hints what his allegory is about, such as in Larry's statement that M means money for Rail, but not for him. McElroy is using economic terms to illustrate the value and investment we place on non-monetary things, such as emotional relationships. These terms are more spread out throughout the book, such as the indifference curves, which are parallel to each other. I'm thinking this is also a metaphor for the multiple plots, which do not intersect, but are related, such as Grace's plot line and Jim's plot line.


message 4: by Nathan "N.R.", James Mayn (new)

Nathan "N.R." Gaddis (nathannrgaddis) | 662 comments Jonathan's deleted #3---


Wonderful cohesion in your retelling to yourself (and us) of this jagged chapter. I feel like I've comprehended the first 3/4ths of the chapter but need to reread (again!) that spectacularly dense last fourth. How incredible is it when the chapter goes from dense tangle to the broke down lonely whimper of those final lines. That moment is perhaps the most exhilarating in the text so far.


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