Sunday, February 24, 2008


I don't remember where I read about Sheila Heti's Ticknor. It's a born curiosity, written "in the zone," and I did enjoy it. It's slight, 118 pages that the author tells us in an afterward were partially cobbled together from various late 19th century and early 20th century writers. Heti, apparently, read the real George Ticknor's Life of William Hickling Prescott (1863) and was inspired to portray a fictional Ticknor who was distracted by envy of his former schoolmate, who sends Ticknor the occasional invitation out of propriety but isn't very interested in his low-functioning old friend. Prescott was the author of The Conquest of Mexico and The Conquest of Peru, still today one of the best English-language chroniclers of the Spanish Conquest (the phrase comes from his pen). The fictional Ticknor can't get over the success of his friend and his own marginalization: we have a nice exploration of the repressed narcissism of the envious man. Ticknor is not grandiose, rather he is self-loathing and paranoid. Meanwhile there are some loving invocations of Boston Brahmin society in the late 1800s. Heti has a nice light touch, never overdoing it or degenerating into the too-easy hyperbolic, feverish madman. For example she creates a nice effect by alternating between "I" and "you" both meaning Ticknor, but she has the self-restraint to use this device only twice. I'll add links to some other novels that use the technique of the unreliable narrator, it's one of my favorite devices.

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