Even though I can count on a couple hands and a foot or two those of my freinds who actively read novels, I feel duty-bound and actually quite happy to tell you to go to your library, used-bookstore or log on to Amazon and check out The World’s Room by Todd London. (image, L) This beautifully understated book was published in the spring of 2001 which may account for the lack of majors reviews it should have, by all rights, recieved.
In a first sentence that even the most curmudgeonly Lish-like writing teacher would have to approve, London begins: “When my brother hanged himself in a shower stall at St. Elizabeths, I took his name…” From this wallop of an image, Erich Hoffman’s fictional memoir proceeds through his parent’s fractured marriage, his mother’s search for a life that fits her outsize expectations and that takes her, three children in tow, all over Mexico and dumps them in Venice, California in the late sixties, through his brother’s suicide and, in the books’s central arc, his own struggle to find an identitity. What sets this book apart, beyond London’s wit, compassion and finely-tuned ear, is the way he actually unpacks the search for identity.
By telling the story of a young man who has chosen to commit a symbolic
suicide in emulation/expiation of his brother’s actual one, London can trace the process of Erich/Teddy’s painfully self-conscious creation of an identity with infinitely more self-awareness than most adolescents. Layered between the so-called normal trials of the American teen-ager’s life, are glimpses of a soul laboring in isolation to jerry-rig a persona that might stand against the void. Lest this sound too self-seriously existential, let me add that the book is full of a wry, subversive humor. “No one said anything about our family dividing, though clearly this was the beginning of the end of us as a numerical whole. First, we’d been seven together, (five plus two). The five became four when we left Dad, then three when Erich died. The two would age and die, first Papa, [Erich’s grandfather] then Oomie [his grandmother]. Mom would also die, even before her mother, and Deborah and I would be left as two. I’m calculating ahead, though”
Todd London is the Artistic Director of New Dramatists, a wonderful organization that does everything it can to keep talented people writing plays in America. In New York last month, I had the good fortune to spend Thanksgiving with him, his equally gifted wife, playwright Karen Hartman, and a lovely group of people I had not met before that day. When I asked Todd about his novel, he gave me a copy. Now I pass it on to you. Enjoy.