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The Song of Percival Peacock.

The first pages of this brilliant novel suggest that it concerns law, order, "mastery." Mr. Peacock believes that these abstractions exist, that they cannot be destroyed. He expects that he will inherit completely his dead father's estate; he will become the king, the authority, the ruler. He speaks in a proud, legalistic way: "Those in authority with responsibility need the moral support of quiet and efficient servants." But he soon discovers that the inheritance is incomplete. He owns the house, but he understands that his servants own the rest of the fortune. There is a break, a rupture, a division. And this division begins to take its toll. Is Mr. Peacock really the master? Are the servants more than supports? The questions imply that the very concepts of law and order are now in doubt.

And Edson continues to deconstruct usual, normal divisions. Mr. Peacock dresses as a child and then a bride. Inanimate objects take on a life of their own. In this mad, surrealistic world everything - a chair, a servant, a master - is no longer. Cartesian dualities are ignored or defeated.

Edson recognizes that language itself is slippery. Mr. Peacock is called by different names - some puns on cock are used. (Percival is no longer a knight; he finds "gruel" instead of "grail.") The neighbor's name is Mrs. Yellington; she speaks softly. There are sudden shifts from slang to pedantry. Although we are at first amused by his words, we are horrified when we realize that our structures are not holy, that indeed, they contain holes. Mr. Peacock screams on the last page: "There is always a chair missing." We are all disinherited inheritors, but at least we own this masterpiece. [Irving Malin]
COPYRIGHT 1993 Review of Contemporary Fiction
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Copyright 1993 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Author:Malin, Irving
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Mar 22, 1993
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