Friday, September 2, 2011

The City of Your Final Destination

The 2002 novel, The City of Your Final Destination by Peter Cameron, has an interesting premise: Omar Razaghi, a graduate student at the University of Kansas, has won a fellowship to write an authorized biography of an obscure—and dead—South American writer, Jules Gund. Omar, however, has screwed up. He never actually obtained the authorization before accepting the fellowship. No problem, as his somewhat assertive (okay, pushy and controlling) girl friend points out. All he has to do is go to Uruguay and convince the three executors of the writer's estate to give him permission.

The executors include the author's French wife, Caroline; his American mistress, Arden; and his homosexual older brother, Adam. Caroline and Arden live together in the big house on what's left of the family's estate; Adam lives with his Thai companion, in the nearby millhouse. Caroline spends her days painting copies of famous paintings. Arden has a 9-year-old daughter and manages the household. Adam seems to read, drink, and get older.

Adam is in favor of the biography. It will help keep Jules' name and work alive. Caroline and Arden oppose it for their own reasons, which Cameron never clearly explains. I think that was a good decision. We all do things that are not clear to ourselves. The novel has hints of why they oppose a biography, so Cameron is playing fair with his readers, but nothing is totally spelled out.

Initially, Omar wants permission to write the biography; this changes as the novel progresses. Caroline is very clear about what she doesn't want (a biography of her dead husband), but it is not as clear what she does want. Arden wants the best for her daughter, and eventually it is clear to be loved. Adam almost seems beyond wants other than a good scotch and a good book. Perhaps the character with the clearest motivation is Omar's girl friend back in Kansas; she wants Omar to be a successful academic whether he wants to be or not.

Cameron has woven a tight fabric out of these threads. I felt satisfied at the end; what happens to the characters has grown out of their situations and personalities. And I thorough enjoyed thinking about the problems of biography, authorized and otherwise.

No comments:

Post a Comment