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by David Gates

Category: Fiction / General
238 pages; ISBN: 0-679-73713-8

Rating: 8/10  (Ratings explained)
Reviewer: William Fare


David Gates was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize for Jernigan (1991), his first novel, and deservedly so. If you can ignore his habit of getting a tad pretentious when he drops obscure references to music and literature(Gates is an arts editor for Newsweek magazine) you`ll find a true modern classic.

Jernigan tells the first-person account of a man`s descent into a dizzying world of booze, abuse, hate and, ultimately, total apathy. A single father in a New Jersey suburb, Peter Jernigan`s story doesn`t start out much better than it ends up. His wife is dead from an alcohol-related accident, his son is a screw-up who doesn`t relate, the daily grind into the city to a job that he doesn`t enjoy and will soon lose. Soon Jernigan has sold the house, moved in with a hippie-ish woman who feeds them on the meat of rabbits she keeps in the basement, and started to re-dedicate his life to drinking himself to death. Through a series of scenes (not always in order) we get an up-close look at Jernigan being forced to relate to people that he usually feels superior to.

What I really enjoy about Gates` characters is that they are usually not very nice people, but we can easily see the causes. Peter Jernigan is a horrible parent, at one point declaring a house rule of "No hard drugs!" to his teenage son. He treats his new lover with little regard, not even realizing what she does for a living weeks into their relationship. However, as we watch him unwind his anger at the world, we can identify with at least some of the modern day evils that create men like this.

This novel has accurately been depicted as a modern-day "Catcher in the Rye", but there is much more to it. Gates would respin the tale of a man driven to hopelessness more successfully in the follow-up, Preston Falls, but in Jernigan there is a sense of white knuckle, savage loneliness that is more raw. I highly recommend this book. It`s not always a pleasant read, but you won`t be able to look away.


Buy Jernigan at
Buy Jernigan at


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