Written as an interior monologue, Destiny begins as Chris Burton receives a phone call informing him of his schizophrenic son's suicide. Burton, a British ex-pat journalist in the final stages of writing his chef d'oeuvre--a cultural history on national character--is married to Mara, a provocative, capricious, flamboyant Italian. The vitriolic arguments and hurtful stratagems that characterize their discordant marriage intensify with the crisis of death and its aftermath--the identification, transport and entombment of Marco's body. Family relationships are further complicated by Mara's distrust and estrangement of her adopted daughter, Paola.

Burton reveals the chaos that schizophrenia imposes not only on the patient, but also on the entire family. In order to avoid prison following an attack on his family and home, Marco had been placed in a psychiatric institute, Villa Serena, and it was at this facility that Marco stabbed himself to death with a screwdriver. The onset of disordered thinking and erratic behavior, the search for therapies, the various repercussions of guilt and blame (including recriminations about the intense, border-blurring maternal love lavished on Marco), are re-examined by Burton as he travels from London to Rome, sits vigil by his son's body in the camera ardente, and confronts his wife at her family's tomb.

Burton's physical distress mirrors his mental anguish. Burton has heart disease and obsesses about lacking his anti-coagulant medication. In addition to the worry of clot formation, urinary retention prevents Burton from emptying his bladder. These physical ailments of containment, confinement, obstruction and blockage form resonances throughout the book: the tomb, the strictures of marriage and the leakage of adultery, the oppressive family 'house of ghosts,' the separateness of interior thought from observable behavior, the barriers of language, the herky-jerky redirections of emergency travel.

Furthermore, the will to create permanence, to make one's destiny more than a transient destination, informs Burton's moves. In the midst of his exploding marriage and tormented trek home, Burton agitates over his work, and in particular, his book, which "must serve to transform a respectable career into a monument" (p. 1).


Parks's brilliant use of time shifts, withheld and accreted information, raw juxtapositions of Burton's thoughts on various topics, compression (an almost claustrophobic collapse of the action into a few days), and the inevitable destabilization of Burton's compound syntax into brief, though still coherent, phrases highlight the complex workings of the mind, particularly the mind under stress.

The book also serves as a meditation on the sometimes fine or overlapping lines between sanity and insanity, public and private lives, and love and hate. As typical for family members of the mentally ill, Burton ruminates on the etiology of schizophrenia, the role of family dynamics, and his son's state of mind at the time of the suicide. Parks has created an outstanding novel stylistically and a particularly valuable read for anyone interested in the impact of psychosis on the family.


Of note: In "Paolo" (published in Granta (2000) 71(Sept): Shrinks), Parks discusses his schizophrenic Italian brother-in-law.



Place Published

New York



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