chandler brossard’s the bold saboteurs

thoughts on chandler brossard

the bold saboteurs reads like a strange conflation of louis-ferdinand céline and mark twain.  the main character, called yogi by his friends, james by his father and george by the rest of the family, seems like a slightly more criminal version of a j. d. salinger character, until he begins a surrealistic hallucination while being processed by the washington police. the ending is heartbreaker and reads like some hitherto unknown masterpiece of the theatre of the absurd. in its way as good as anything kerouac wrote – if not better. brossard’s freewheeling style and apparently random and picaresque narrative conceal a carefully modulated narrative voice and tightly-knit structure designed for maximum impact on the reader’s emotions.

Set in Washington, D.C. in the late 1930s and 1940s, The Bold Saboteurs is the story of the young Brown brothers who, along with their mother, must cope with the ravages, and absence, of their violent, alcoholic father. In order to survive, the elder Roland becomes a night watchman and uneasy head of the household; the younger George, a multiple schizophrenic whose hallucinations make up some of the most vivid, free-associative passages in the book, takes up a life of crime.

This autobiographical novel marks Brossard’s emergence from the formal influence of Flaubert and Camus into a wildly free, multilayered narrative where fantasy and reality, sanity and insanity coexist and intertwine.

Within the family, George, whose life chokes him with its "grimy emptiness," is controlled and, at times, brutally disciplined by his powerful brother. Roland, himself a borderline personality with religious delusions, creates an elaborate family mythology, convincing George they are descended from royalty. Outside the family, the rich detail of Brossard’s fictional underworld points to the author’s early life "near the gutter," among the outcasts of Washington society: thieves, muggers, extortionists, prostitutes and the Negro underclass."

By age thirteen, George is basically living on his own. While sporadically attending school (he also spends hours reading in the public library), he sustains himself with burglary, robbery, kidnapping, fencing of stolen merchandise, and hustling tennis matches.

Remarkable in its time for its in-depth treatment of alcoholism and its effects on family life, and its erotically charged descriptions of George’s voyeurism and his sexual initiation by older women.

a semi-accurate accounting cribbed from a later edition’s book jacket



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