Primary Category: Literature / Fiction
- Ratzan, Richard M.
- Date of entry: Oct-03-2005
Celia Gilchrist is an editor in London who is in her thirties waiting for the right man. She meets Lewis, clearly (at least clearly to everyone else in the novel and the reader but not, typically, to Celia) a cad and a womanizer. About the time she realizes this, she receives and accepts a job offer in Edinburgh where she promptly meets Stephen, who is separated from his wife, Helen--a Helen as elusive and mysterious as the Helen of Troy, and also as powerful to affect the lives of others, especially men--and their nine-year-old child, Jenny. Despite Celia's valiant effort to get to know and accept Jenny, Celia and Jenny do not get along. From the very first chapter, which is a flash-forward, to the last page, Celia encounters accidents, lies, damage to her personal property, from dresses to sweaters to jewelry--all when Jenny is in the vicinity. The ending is cataclysmic.
This is a very, very dark novel. The adolescent as evil is nothing new in literature but Homework elevates Jenny's evil to the plane of Das Radikal Böse, i.e., the philosophic entity we speak of vis-à-vis Satan or Hitler. This may sound extreme but Jenny's actions seem too extreme for an adolescent trying--at any level of consciousness--to throw a monkey wrench in her father's romance with a woman not her mother.
Homework is a lose-lose novel. It reminds one of other novels and stories of despair like Montana 1948 by Larry Watson (see this database) or Andre Dubus's short story, "Killings". One wonders, by novel's end, whether Jenny, is, like Judge Holden in Cormac McCarthy's Blood Meridian, the devil in human form.
Viewed less drastically, Homework is a study of obsession. Jenny's efforts to thwart the relationship between Stephen and Celia are minutely detailed, as minutely detailed as Celia's attempts to react and prevent them.