Friday, December 4, 2009

Shades of Hamlet

Maybe I'm a sucker for Shakespearean allusions, but here I am again at the end of a novel that is such a Hamlet story. Lin Enger's novel Undiscovered Country is the story of a young man who hears gunfire at the end of a day of deer hunting and finds his father dead of gunshot wounds in his deer stand. You guessed it: he has an uncle Clay (not Claudius) who just happened to have dated the widowed mom when they were in high school.

In this case, the story is set in Minnesota and told as a flashback by Jesse, the older protagonist, now an English teacher living in California with his brother Magnus. In the last year or two, I've read The Story of Edgar Sawtelle and The Dead Father's Club, both Hamlet stories, and Serena, a Macbeth story. Each one has been a good story, quite original despite the heavy borrowing from the Bard (who was himself quite a borrower, if not a lender). Since I'm three fifths of the way through Hamlet in my English 113 class, I'm pleased to be able to tell my own students that one of the reasons Shakespeare really is the greatest writer who ever lived is that his stories and his characters are so universal and timeless.

In this particular book, rather than to trip to slip the allusions under the readers' radar--after all, he does borrow his title from that most famous soliloquy--the author comes right out and has his characters find the Hamlet connections too obvious. I found myself completely sympathetic to Jesse, as he wrestled with his pull toward revenge on one side and his Hispanic girlfriend Christina, who struggles to keep him from going through with his plans.

I was intrigued to learn that Lin Engrer is the brother of Leif Enger, whose novel Peace Like a River I particularly enjoyed. (His next one is still sitting on my nightstand in the stack.) I do hope their relationship resembles Jesse and Magnus's more than that of Uncle Clay and Jesse's dad.


Anonymous said...

Shakespeare is everywhere. I love it when I find him in unexpected places.

Yesterday I found a book, Ophelia, telling her side of the story. It looks really intriguing and I've put it in my TBR list (which is waaaaay to long, so who knows when I'll get to read it).

Nancy said...

My dream life would have plenty of time to tackle that list, Stephanie!

Nishant said...

It looks really intriguing and I've put it in my TBR list

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