Book: The Diary of a Rapist
Author: Evan S. Connell
Type of Book: Fiction, depictions of madness
Why I Consider this Book Odd: Initially, the title made me suspect, but it was born out as I read this book, a graphic depiction into the the mind of a man who presumably rapes a woman yet still sees himself as potentially courting her. Also, A.M. Homes gives the introduction and while she is not full-bore odd, per se, she hovers in the fringes of odd so her presence in this book was the final seal on the odd deal.
Availability: Reissued by New York Review Books, you can get a copy here:
Comments: My god, I am a sucker for depictions of madness, and Earl Summerfield runs the gamut of many ways human madness can express itself. This is not the tale of someone descending into madness. It is the tale of a full-bore madman from the very beginning.
I generally do not read reviews of books before I review them myself but I read some other opinions out there before I began this review. There are some for whom Earl Summerfield is the precursor to the modern Everyman, a person made mad by the world around him. For me this did not ring true. Earl was not made mad. He is mad. He is mad because he is a misogynistic paranoid with violent tendencies. This conclusion did not make this book any the less a compelling read. Connell could not have done a better job painting a picture of a repellent, insane human being.
Written in 1966, this book is a diary that begins on January 1. In his diary, Earl recounts his tug of war in the world. His love and hatred for his wife, who is older than him and able to get along in the world much better than he. His love and hatred for himself. His love and hatred for the world. Among his often bizarre recounts of his life, his utter misogyny and pedophilic tendencies begin to reveal themselves. He swings between moods of narcissistic euphoria and complete self-loathing. He one day respects his co-workers and the next despises them and feels a sense of paranoia behind all their activities.
Occasionally, he has cause to feel a sense of grinding down, like then his supervisor at work chides him to scurry to his desk faster because the head honcho wants to see an increase in productivity. His is a job in which he fears even doodling because his supervisors pace behind him as he fills out unemployment claims for men he despises. His job is repetitive and he has two passive-aggressive supervisors who pounce on his every mistake, yet so hungry is Earl for any sort of recognition in his monotonous work world, he takes information that he makes few mistakes and has been late the least as a sign that he is in line for a grand promotion. But his workplace cannot be blamed for his insanity. His work-world is Kafka-esque but the boredom and minor humiliations he experiences are not enough to turn a man into a pedophile, a rapist and a wife-hating narcissist. This is why I disagree with those who think the intensity of the modern world made Earl mad. No one who was not insane to begin with ends up like Earl because of a job. Earl is a lunatic because Earl is Earl, not because his workplace is devoid of soul.
Earl is, however, a very accurate depiction of mental illness that becomes violent. He avidly reads and records terrible crimes in his diary and clips news articles for a scrapbook, at times writing words of outrage at how terrible the world is, and other times sympathizing with those who commit crimes to a degree that makes the reader wonder how involved Earl might have been in some of the crimes he reads about.