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The novel opens with a glimpse of Virginia Woolf in the last hours of her life (though Woolf, as a character, remains very much alive throughout the book). Her struggle with depression and the process of writing Mrs. Dalloway provide the thematic underpinning of The Hours. As with Woolf's novel, the real time of the novel concerns Clarissa Vaughn's preparations for a party that night. Her close friend Richard has been awarded a prestigious poetry prize, but he is also dying ofAIDS. It is Richard who, pointing to Woolf, calls Clarissa Mrs. D., or Mrs. Dalloway, and the story of his long friendship with Clarissa Vaughn mirrors Sally and Peter Walsh's relationships with Clarissa Dalloway. The third story belongs to Laura Brown. Mrs. Brown is an introvert , an almost obsessive reader, and the novel shows her increasing realization that she is not suited for conventional marriage or motherhood . The Hours is clearly built on the foundation of Mrs. Dalloway, and Cunningham quotes from it directly in several places, but one of the strengths of the book is that the echoes of Woolf are transmuted in ways that allow Cunningham's characters to become complex people in their own right. Richard is an inheritor of Septimus Smith's wartime experiences. Laura Brown, who is stifled in the California suburbs, is an echo of Virginia Woolf kept safely (or sanely) in Richmond. Both women are preoccupied with death, but for different reasons. Tonally, the novel is distinct from Woolf's too; Cunningham has a subtle humor. Witness Clarissa Vaughn's daughter, intellectually enamored of her ardent feminist professor, an adamant dyke with a shaved head who finds Clarissa as unacceptable as Miss Kilman finds Clarissa Dalloway. The closing paragraphs ofTheHours are absolutely stunning. Cunningham 's observations about our lives, voiced through Clarissa, are sorrowful and sustaining and wise. Like Joyce's "The Dead," everything in The Hours leads up to a culminating paragraph that is a small and perfectly tuned meditation on the beauty to be found in a dark and difficult world. (EO) The Tesseract by Alex Garland Penguin Putnam, 1999, 273 pp., $24.95 Garland's second novel, following his riveting debut, The Beach, has convinced me that he is die best thirtyish writer in English today—which is not to say, however, that his books are as wise as those of older writers. The Tesseract consists of three interwoven stories set in the Philippines. The first is that of an English seaman who has run afoul of, and is being hunted by, a Filipino criminal overlord . The second is that of a middleclass Filipino woman rearing two small children and recalling her treacherous first love. The last is that of two street urchins who are paid by a lonesome graduate student to tell him their dreams. The novel opens with the English seaman waiting for an appointment in a hotel so seedy that he seems to be die only resident, and many of the rooms are open to the air. The scene develops in a piecemeal 188 · The Missouri Review fashion—jumping back and forth in time, but with bursts of reaUstic dialogue . The Englishman is absolutely convinced that he is going to die, and the resulting suspense is almost unbearable. The story of the middle-class woman is an equally expert evocation; I don't doubt for a moment Garland 's description of how a teenaged Filipino provincial feels when she meets a young fisherman on the way to school, or how she feels, years later, in her nicely landscaped home in Manila. The three stories come together in a violent climax, and it is here that Garland's writing is betrayed by his youth. The violence—not only at the end but scattered throughout the book—is very casual, the sort we see all the time on television and in the movies. There's no deep analysis going on here, and for that reason I can't decide whether it's true to life or gratuitous. The Tesseraci is billed as a quasiphilosophical book (a tesseraci is a hypercube, a four-dimensional figure whose three-dimensional projection is a cube). This may be of...


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pp. 188-189
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