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From: Adam Stephanides <adamsteph@earthlink.net>
Subject: (urth) PEACE: What went wrong?
Date: Wed, 25 Oct 2000 23:38:05 

Stimulated by the mantis-inspired discussion of PEACE, I just finished
rereading it again, taking notes this time.  What a great book.  I can't
believe it's so unknown out of sf circles (my copy was in storage, so I
had to check out my university library's copy.  In a university of
30,000 students, I'm the first to check it out in five years.  Sigh...)

I feel like with this reading I've begun to understand the book, though
much of it is still enigmatic to me.  In particular, I think I may have
an explanation of perhaps the chief mystery: why Weer selects these
particular episodes for his narration.  We think of the book as being
Weer's life story, and to be sure it is that; but most of what one would
expect to be narrated in a memoir or autobiography is mentioned only in
passing or not at all, while most of parts two and three--making up
nearly half the book--are devoted to incidents that appear to involve
Weer tangentially at best.  Why?  What makes these episodes significant
for Weer?  Of course, all the theories that have been propounded on the
book have their own answer to this question.  Right now, though, rather
than discuss these other theories, I'll just plunge ahead with my own.

The key, I think, is Weer's statement "What went wrong?  That is the
question" (215; all references are to the Harper first edition.  Its
pages run from 1 to 264, which may help those with other editions.)  In
context, Weer is referring to his failure to marry Margaret Lorn.  We
may add to things that "went wrong" with Weer's life his failure to
marry, or (as far as we know) have a long-term relationship with anyone,
and his feeling useless in his job as president of Julius's company. 
(This latter is the significance of the passage Dan'l Danehy-Oakes
quotes: "when my life was over and I had come to my desk" (17); not that
his life literally ended at that point, but that his useful life was
over.  See also his remarks to Dan French on p. 250.)  But what do these
have to do with the episodes which occupy most of the book?  I'll begin
my answer with a discussion of a story mantis hasn't gotten to yet, that
of Jack and the banshee, which Kate told Hannah and Hannah tells young
Den.  The story is intriguing in itself, so I'll digress a bit, but I'll
get back to my main theme soon.

This story stands out in a number of ways.  It is the first embedded
story.  It is one of the few to be finished (though not the only one). 
It is one of a "Doherty cycle" of stories, the other two of which are
the story of St. Brandon and the story of the sidhe, which are
disctinctive in several ways.  And it is, as far as I can remember, the
only story in the book whose teller explicitly appends a moral: "'You
see, it's not always well to make someone say what they don't want to.'"
(36)  While Hannah banally applies this moral to rebuke Den for a small
joke he played on her, it is rich with meaning for the book as a whole. 
For in a sense, Weer is "making someone say something" throughout the
book.  This is apparent in the scenes in Van Ness's office, but it's
true of the "memories" as well; for it slowly becomes clear that Weer is
not merely recollecting these scenes, but reliving them, altering them
as he does so.  So there is the suggestion that Weer's whole enterprise
is a bit sinister.  This ties in with Gold's warning against necromancy
(232).  We think of Weer as being like the lich who was raised, but from
Weer's point of view he is the one practicing necromancy--he tells us
over and over that all the people he knew are dead.

But the dangers of making, or trying to make, someone say what they
don't want to are illustrated much more dramatically much closer to
where the story appears: in the fight with Bobby Black.  Bobby "know[s]
that if we can make me speak his battle is won" (8); and presumably,
though Weer doesn't say so, the five-year-old Den sought to make Bobby
cry uncle.  So, just as in the story, we have two antagonists, each
trying to make the other speak.  Like the banshee, Bobby dies.  And Weer
and Jack's fates are remarkably similar, too.  Weer inherits wealth, and
never marries.  Jack inherits Molly's father's farm, and marries Molly
but apparently never sleeps with her; we are left to infer that his life
was as unhappy as Weer's.  (We might note, incidentally, that Jack,
perhaps like Weer, is responsible for two deaths.)

Jack never sleeps with Molly because he was cursed: the banshee told him
he would be the father of the Antichrist.  Is Weer cursed as a result of
the battle?  I think he is, though not in a supernatural sense.  I don't
believe that Weer "murdered" Bobby; the injury was most likely an
accident, and besides Den was only five.  But when Bobby died, young Den
must have felt himself to be a murderer.  And the response of his
parents, in essence to abandon him, could only have confirmed this
belief.  Unconsciously regarding himself as a murderer, I would argue,
he felt himself both undeserving of love and too much of a potential
danger to marry, and so unconsciously sabotaged any chances of marrying.

What of parts two, three, and four?  In part two Den meets Margaret, of
course; but more to the point, as I argued earlier, we see Olivia
exploiting her suitors for her own advantage.  This would give Weer
another reason for avoiding marriage.  Part three, dominated by Julius's
story, is the prelude to Julius's marrying Olivia, which leads to Weer's
inheriting the company and the end of his useful life.  And if mantis is
correct that Den's retelling Julius's story to Margaret led to the
breakup, then we have another "wrong turning."  In part four we see
Den's relationship with Lois, which could have led to marriage, collapse
in the worst way, one which could only have confirmed the bad impression
of women he got from Olivia.

And part five?  If you believe that Weer was the one who didn't let the
boy out of the coldroom (and I have to admit it seems probable), then
Weer's unconscious has further ammunition for its view of Weer as
murderer.  But beyond this, as mantis says, in part five we see Weer
summing up what his life has become, the end result of parts one through
four.

It's late, so I'll stop for now.  I'll admit my theory is still pretty
sketchy, and is far from making the book crystal-clear; but I still like
it better than anything else I've seen.  Obviously, any comments are
greatly appreciated.

--Adam

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