Gideon’s Confession tells the story of a recent college graduate without a plan or any particular hope for the future. It is the late 1980s, and Gideon is wasting his time in Chicago bars and at the racetrack. His “confession” relates many questionable activities, including having sex in a church and sleeping with his brand-new girlfriend’s friend. But he is not boastful; nor is he ridden by shame or guilt. His real moral failing might be his profound apathy.
This may or may not be the result of generous monthly checks he receives from a doting uncle. Gideon has a devoted girlfriend, a nice liberal arts degree, and nothing in particular against which to rebel. But despite his easy lifestyle and opportunities for achievement, he cannot make up his mind to do anything. When asked, “Where’s your oomph?” he replies, “The oomph gene is something I was born without.” He admits he is drawn to a dangerously romantic notion of “free-falling:” “I always wanted to leap from a plane … and fall as long as possible while the earth, a patchwork of farms below, comes rushing toward me.”
An interesting psychological wormhole lies at the heart of this narrative as Gideon’s Confession mingles autobiographical fact and fiction. Gideon, like author Joseph Peterson, grew up in Chicago in a working class family, attended the University of Chicago, and worked in an aluminum mill. But unlike the author, Gideon has yet to live. The reader often hears two voices. There is the companionable but uncertain young narrator who speaks casually of his past and present, with his future wide open before him. But there is also the silent, established Chicago author subtly suggesting how crucial this moment is, and how close Gideon comes to living a lonely, pointless life.
The act of making his “confession” is the first step on a better path. Gideon is not religious; he confesses because it is a useful tool for self-analysis. Honesty is paramount. He engages in no underhanded self-aggrandizement; one does not sense any gleeful exhibitionism. What he wants is simply to tell the truth about himself, if he can. His confession is significant not because of what he did, but because writing is the one thing he feels motivated to do. The possibility of desire and hope hangs in the balance.
Gideon’s Confession is quite short and reads extremely quickly—it could be finished in a day. This is the author’s fourth novel, and the fluid prose style here is direct and unadorned. Gideon’s apathy is frustrating at times, but it also is realistic. If his judgments still seem immature and impulsive (to be fair, of course, he is not alone in this), at least some purchase on a viable future has been gained as he begins to appreciate the mystery and promise of deeper connections with others.
April 2014, Switchgrass Books/Northern Illinois University Press
$15.95 paperback, 130 pages
—Reviewed by Vicky Albritton
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