All Shall Be Well; And All Shall Be Well; And All Manner of Things Shall Be Well, by Tod Wodicka

April 29, 2012 at 14:59 (Book Reviews, Comedy, Fiction, Mediocre Books) (, , , , )

6/10

Another reviewer has somewhere said, “I enjoyed it, but had to brush my teeth afterward.” This witty soundbyte sums up All Shall Be Well… fairly perfectly, and is a very fitting evaluation (it is tempting to say “epitaph”) for this absurdist tragicomedy. There is an interesting contrast at work here, between cutely funny and desperately melancholic, and unfortunately the latter tends to drown out the former. It bears repeating: where Wodicka aims for sweet and empathetic, he does it very well. When he aims for overwhelming depression, he perhaps does it too well.

Of the two main characters, Hecker and his wife (and the added extra of his wife’s bipolar personalities) a strong comparison can be drawn with Beckett’s Nagg and Nell: trapped in both past and present and horrified to find the future only a grim copy of their memories. They are bleak, hopeful in a very depressing way, sly and distinctly unappealing. Their troublesome lives are reflected in repeated allusions towards Hecker’s patchwork of history: he is the latest in a long parade of failures. This theme is subverted somewhat by the inclusion of a few notes of what smells suspiciously like hope towards the end of his story; Wodicka spiting Hecker’s historical incarnations and forcing the question as to whether this book is a condemnation or an affirmation of predeterminism.

“Dawn, or its German equivalent, cannot be far off.”

-All Shall Be Well…

And this is where the quote from the beginning comes in: this is an enjoyable book, and Wodicka does have a unique and fervid style. But perhaps the story is told from too close a vantage point, and Hecker’s sickly mead binges and sordid, ugly life drags on, chapter by chapter, a litany of the gross and excessive with only occasional relief. Hecker is sent on a pilgrimage to rediscover his son, his daughter, his lawyer, his sense of purpose, and all of the mixed reasons why characters in novels go on pilgrimages. It is not that his character fails; only that the pilgrimage is only barely distinguishable from his regular life. It is not this novel’s bleakness that damages it (for bleak novels can be tremendous fun and deeply moving) but its stagnancy.

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