First published in 1965, this remarkable novel is Paul Metcalf’s purging of the burden of his relationship to Herman Melville (his great-grandfather), but it is much broader than that. In the extraordinary style of writing that is now Metcalf’s signature, he collages multiple stories. Metcalf explores incidents in the life of Herman Melville, the influence of Columbus on Melville and Melville’s use and conversion of the Columbus myth, the influence of Melville on his own life, and the story of Carl and Michael Mills, whose semi-fictional story provides the central structure of the book. The narrator is Michael Mills, a club-footed unfortunate, who holds an M.D. degree but who refuses to practice. It is to search out the reason for this refusal, and to come to terms with the memory of his monstrous older brother, Carl (whose life was terminated by the state before the novel opens), that Michael retreats to his attic, his books, his studies — Columbus, Melville and others.
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