of this book as well as Wilhemina Jenkins on Wednesday, May 9, 2012
2:00 PM - 3:00 PM EDT
Book Notes: 'Love and Fatigue in America'
By Rae Francoeur
GateHouse News Service
Posted Apr 25, 2012
"Love and Fatigue in America," by Roger King. Terrace Books/Imprint of
University of Wisconsin Press. Madison, Wis., 2012. 271 pages. $26.95.
At the start of Roger King's remarkable autobiographical novel, "Love
and Fatigue in America," his unnamed narrator is at the top of his
game. He's just signed a contract for another book, BBC wants him to
produce a screenplay, he has a promising girlfriend and a new job
teaching at a college in Spokane, Wash. He's 43 years old,
well-traveled, educated, British, attractive to women and opportunity
alike. He's also headed for a fall from which he never quite regains
the full extent of his powers.
The narrator's troubles start with a fever and bout of dizziness at
the gym. He can barely get himself home. Eventual diagnosis: myalgic
encephalopathy — ME disease, also known as chronic fatigue syndrome.
It's one of those invisible illnesses, like MS, that can engender
impatience and disbelief rather than compassion or nurturing behavior
from others. If he weren't so incapacitated, perhaps he, too, would
question what had so thoroughly overcome him.
In the years covered in this book, the narrator leaves Spokane, moves
to New Mexico, then on to San Francisco to teach again. When he leaves
that position, it is with a "catastrophic leave of absence." A
subsequent road trip, conducted at very low ebb (he calls it "careful
husbandry of my energy"), takes him on a roundabout tour of the United
States. Eventually he makes a home in a small town in Western
Massachusetts, five miles from a college, where he slowly finds a life
A life is something this narrator is always looking for before he
comes to understand the following: "You must wait for it to come to
you." You cannot seize it, you cannot hurry it. This technique, he
says, is also good for befriending dogs and children.
Though illness shapes "Love and Fatigue in America," it is far from
the only matter King examines. King is smart and funny. His unnamed
narrator, not quite likable at first, grows on you in part because of
his amusing observations about everything American from the pathetic
state of health care to the way men cannot allow themselves to care
for others to the surprising number of women he meets who have been
subjected to violence, often by military men. King's British
background makes his examination of American culture especially
interesting in contrast.
This is not a traditional novel. King sometimes makes lists, often
very funny, one of which — all the medicines his character has taken —
he tells us we don't really have to read. "The Things They Say" is a
list of people's responses to his illness, such as:
"In the old days, we couldn't afford to be ill." "If people help you,
it will only make you helpless." "Just snap out of it."
He also presents ideas expressed in free verse. In "Luck" he talks
about all the good that has come his way and, still, he says, he's
found things about which he complained. Thus, he apologizes. By the
time he pauses to examine his good fortune, however, he's far from
lucky. One million people have ME disease in America and he's one of
He spends a good deal of the next decade on his back — in beds or on
couches, in "energy-saver mode." In New Mexico, he describes his life
as "a bed at its center, a distant view, love surrounding." This, it
turns out, is a brilliant perspective from which to view and write
The book is not traditional for other reasons. "Love and Fatigue in
America" is an autobiographical novel, with King's own experience with
ME disease at the core. King's neurological disease, with its
disruption of memory, assures a certain re-imagination of events.
Also, he changes names and allows his unnamed protagonist to serve as
a filter through which the re-imagination occurs. King says that
examination of brain activity by scientists reveals that the act of
recall and the act of imagining are virtually indistinguishable.
King and his protagonist settle in America. "I liked America for the
yes," he writes. This can-do mentality is no doubt especially
attractive to someone slowly recovering from a devastating illness.
Concluding chapters seem hurried when compared with the first
three-quarters of the book. It's understandable, since there's
probably a limit to readers' patience. Yet, great reckonings unfurl in
mere paragraphs. On the other hand, we are ready. The narrator is
lucky once again. He is able to make some sense out of the life he
lives on low ebb.
From the small town in which he's staked his homestead, the narrator
sees an America in decline, an America engaged in divisive activities
not unlike what brought him to his own sick bed. Yet, as he looks
around at the yoga, health foods, meditation and green initiatives, he
says, "the ills of America are creating their own immune response."