Sunday, April 17, 2016

“Death Comes For The Deconstructionist”

“Death Comes For The Deconstructionist” ($22 in hardcover from Slant; also for Amazon Kindle) by Daniel Taylor ( is a mystery. Who killed Richard Pratt, literary theorist extraordinaire?

Enter narrator Jon Mote, once one of Pratt’s students. Pratt’s wife hires him to investigate; she tells him: “I just feel like there’s something there to be seen that the police wouldn’t recognize if they tripped over it. I think you can help.”

So the quest begins. Mote is “on the wrong side of thirty-five, as our culture judges such things. I am separated from my wife, … living with my sister, who, despite substantial challenges, is far more acclimated to life than I am. … I get most of my opinions from cable television. … And, oh yes, I hear voices. They do not wish me well.”

His sister Judy, who has cognitive and linguistic disabilities, is the moral core of the novel. Her love for Jon goads him on when things go awry.

The first Mrs. Pratt recalls someone far different than the sophisticated scholar; “Dickie” Pratt grew up in the South and participated in the hanging of an African-American man (the local newspaper called it a “suicide”). After the divorce, he changed.

“He had converted to a new religion,” Jon realizes, “one that promised him a new kind of absolution from his sins, not least by dismissing the idea that there were sins to be absolved from. No fixed boundaries, no metanarratives, no sin, and voila, no guilt. It’s a game I am trying to play myself.”

This quirky and astute novel explores that “game” and what happens when the misguided deconstructionist finds freedom in “killing words.”

One who got angry at Pratt’s last lecture, Verity Jackson, tells Jon: “Dr. Pratt wasn’t just talking about Big Brother and God and most of the writers who have given me hope in life; he was also undermining Martin and Malcolm and Sojourner and Gandhi and anyone else who ever said, ‘This is wrong and things should be different.’ Words may just be play for him, but they aren’t play for people like me who depend on their stories.”

Verity, of course, means truth.

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