Everyday fantastic

<strong>Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet</strong>

Joanne Proulx <em>Picador, 368pp, £15</em>

After predicting his friend Stan’s death, Luke is hounded by the local media. Depressed and confused by his ability, he develops and then kicks an addiction to painkillers. His parents fight; he meets a girl and loses her; he grows apart from his oldest friend, Fang. When Luke foresees the death of a missing girl, we seem to be involved briefly in an allegorical thriller. But she is alive, his ability disappears, and the story relaxes once more into a more conventional tale of growing pains.

This shift between the fantastic and the quotidian characterises Anthem of a Reluctant Prophet. However, it occasions a number of narrative dead ends, crucially Luke’s ability for prediction. Is this a tale of the unexpected, or a simple story about teenage life in suburban America? As Luke’s power and its importance to the plot wane, it becomes hard to see how the novel would be much different, had Luke never predicted anything at all.

Because Luke’s power is ultimately unimportant to much of the action, it also disappoints thematically – it casts no light on Fang’s hidden homosexuality, for example. In the end, Luke plays no symbolic role. Neither the artist in society nor a seer among the blind, nor even the misunderstood outsider, he is just a young man whose coming-of-age story would almost certainly have been more interesting without gimmickry.

This article first appeared in the 28 April 2008 issue of the New Statesman, Everybody out!