More Questions than Answers

To my mind, the first question that needs to be answered, before embarking on any interpretation of this novel, is whether one can actually pull a Herbert Quain (as suggested in the previous post), comb back through Assumption after reading the ending, decipher the clues, and reconstruct a coherent version of what happened. The whole meaning of the book depends on whether that’s possible.

But that would be hard to do even in the time devoted to a full-length paper, and I certainly wasn’t able to do it by the time this post was due. Maybe we can put our heads together and work through it in class on Monday.

In lieu of that, here are some questions about the novel that I thought merited reflection:

1.) Genre and the desire for resolution/coherence. If the point of this novel is that there is no point, and that’s all there is to it, I would feel pretty disappointed. Such points have certainly been made often enough before, and frankly I find them tiresome. It’s more interesting, I think, to say that the novel’s lack of resolution forces us to examine our own desire for resolution, and more importantly, how certain generic elements sculpt that desire. In this case the relevant ones are (modernist?) high-literature and of course detective fiction

2.) Identity and denotation. Many passages in the novel made me wonder whether “Ogden’s mother” and “Eva Walker” in fact refer to the same person. The top of page 60 is a particularly suspicious example. The same can of course be applied to the last scene. Is it really Bucky who says “It’s me” when Warren Fragua calls out? Is it really Ogden who gets shot? After all, the face of the guy who got killed is not the “a face he [Warren] knew” (225). Was it really Ogden who held Warren at gunpoint? Warren could have easily misrecognized him.

3.) Holy Mary, Mother of God. Well, the title of the novel is Assumption, right? So we have to talk about the Assumption of Mary into heaven, right? (I know I’m not the only one in this class who was raised Catholic.) Anyway, on page 199 a junkie tells Ogden: “My name is Mary… You know, like in the Bible. Jesus’s mother. The light blue one.” Honestly, I think this (modernist?) high-literary clue is just as unlikely to lead anywhere as the detective-style clues in the novel are. What’s really interesting is how Assumption points out the similarities between high-literary and detective-fiction discourses by showing how the same kind of story can subvert both at once.