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February 05, 2016

Book Review—Peru by Gordon Lish

At the tender age of six, Gordon murdered Steven Adinoff in Andy Leiblich’s sandbox. After witnessing scenes on the television of violent acts from a prison in Peru, Gordon begins to remember this event. But as he remembers, as he interrogates whatever details his memory is willing to conjure, his thoughts take on a new form, until the very murder at the centre of Gordon’s reminiscences becomes uncertain.

Unlike other memory narratives where the process involves the clichéd “peeling an onion” technique, where removing layers of details reveals the truth, Peru works the opposite way. “There is nothing I will not tell you if I can think of it”, Gordon promises us, and so he circles around the facts of the matter as well as seemingly inconsequential details that will not yield. The flurry of repetition both immediate (“Steven Adinoff is not even the half of it, Steven Adinoff is not even a smidgen of it. For instance, for instance—speaking of the cellar for instance”) and in recurring passages (the coloured man and the Buick, the matriarchal nanny, Andy’s sister in the cellar, the hoe striking into Steven Adinoff’s head) all add to this swirling around that both confirms as it casts doubt. To add to this blurring of the real and the false Lish, the author, uses his real given name (Gordon) for the protagonist and dedicates the novel not only to his real family but also and the fictional(?) deceased boy. Even the basic assumptions of what is ‘real’ and what is fictional are not guaranteed.

Frightening with its allure of the obsessiveness of memory, Peru is a haunting look at a gruesomely twisted childhood nostalgia.


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