Ever since Chris Adrian's acclaimed short story "Every Night for a Thousand Years" appeared in the New Yorker in 1997, readers have waited for the release of the author's first novel. In Gob's Grief, their wait is rewarded with a visionary book that builds on the Civil War-era story first introduced some four years earlier.
In the original tale, American poet Walt Whitman watches over the deathbed of a child soldier suffering his final days in an Army hospital. Whitman's despair drives him to near madness. In Gob's Grief, Whitman makes the acquaintance of George Washington Woodhull, better known as Gob, the fictitious son of real-life feminist and presidential candidate Virginia Woodhull. Raised in the Ohio countryside by a quirky extended family, Gob apprentices himself to the man-beast Urfeist to unlock the secrets of death. Gob has suffered relentless anguish since his 11-year-old-brother Tomo ran off to fight in the Civil War and was killed. Now he is driven to build a machine that will bring his brother and thousands of other Civil War dead back to life.
Now studying to become doctor (as is author Chris Adrian) Gob constructs a mechanical device that eventually spreads throughout his New York City townhouse. Guided by the drawings of Gob's wife, the machine becomes a gruesome manifestation of his madness.
Part history novel, part science fiction, Gob's Grief delves into the depths of passion that motivates the unique collection of characters. Well researched and vividly imagined, the novel details Virginia Woodhull's quest for women's suffrage and free love with excerpts from actual speeches. Some of Whitman's writings are used with poignant effect, too.
Through it all Adrian's descriptive writing marries madness and reality. As Virginia confers with her muses and Whitman waxes poetic, the line between fact and fiction blurs. Gob's Grief is a memorable exploration into the mind of madness.
Amber Stephens is a freelance writer in Columbus, Ohio.