"The line of words I am forbidden to write spins around my
body in an endless spiral."
If art is to make sense of the world, then it does so through
releasing the forbidden words that spiral in all of us. Dale Peck’s
second novel is a brave and moving attempt to write the forbidden,
through fiction and through memoir. His fictional exploration
of a marriage cocoons the forbidden narrative of his own parents
marriage, providing a narrative safety net that dominates the
Beatrice and Henry’s marriage is presented as two separate narratives,
their courtship years and early marriage set against the post-retirement
years. These intertwined narratives go back and forth showing
the growth and disintegration of their marriage in a disrupted
time-scheme. The sense of alienation between the young and older
couple is highlighted by a change of names – Beatrice to Bea,
Henry to Hank.
When they first meet, Henry is dying. Their love grows from the
anticipation of his death, and when cheated of it, their relationship
loses its fundamental meaning. Unfulfilled lives unfold around
and before them. In terms of life, the narrative peaked too soon.
A decision to move near a widowed friend and build a house provides
a focus for their warring needs as each day the builders get different
orders. The final result is a building of great oddity, with staircases
going nowhere, doors leading to nothing. The somewhat miraculous
retrieval of their initial passion is played out with great delicacy
within the confines of their metaphorical new home.
At its centre, this novel is an exploration of family alienation.
Henry and Beatrice’s slow dance of attrition is the counterpoint
to the essential lack of real narrative in any given life as exemplified
in Peck’s own memoir. Art imposes order, even if only to reveal
an essential disarray. The Law of Enclosures sits firmly
in the realist tradition of the modern American novel; beautifully
structured, the one flaw could be said to be the fundamental coldness
at the heart of his protagonists and their lives, a coldness Peck
masks by importing the fire of his own experience. An essential
lack of sympathy slightly muffles Peck’s otherwise impressive
Reviewed by Sara Rance