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What I'm Going to Do, I Think

What I'm Going to Do, I Think - Larry Woiwode Larry Woiwode’s What I’m Going to Do, I Think, which won its author the William Faulkner Award in 1969, is a claustrophobic and stifling novel despite its setting in the northern Michigan woods. Centered on the relationship between a pair of newlyweds, and told entirely from inside Chris Van Eenaman’s perceptions, the novel perfectly and painfully captures the confusion and vacilations of a young man trying to navigate the competing demands of family, love, and ambition.Woiwode’s prose is plain and direct, and never steps outside Chris’ consciousness. There are no attempts to soften his rough edges or justify his hypocrasies. A farm boy who has rejected his family and is pursuing an advanced math degree, he seems a poor match for ethereal, gnomic Ellen. He’s wracked by jealousy and doubt, and is clearly unable to win over Ellen’s grandparents, a pair of controlling psychic tormenters who offer their summer bain as a honeymoon retreat for the eloped couple “since it doesn’t seem you’ve planned that far ahead.” Indeed, he’s no match for most of the people he encounters: the Indian at the grocery store, the cabin’s ineffectual caretaker, the sabistic old farmer Orin who could be a character from a Garrison Keillor nightmare.Despite his shortcomings, though, Chris wins the reader’s loyalty by his dogged (and pig-headed) determination. He’s flawed and broken and destined for failure, just like the rest of us. Woiwode exposes Chris’ petty failings without comment, and we recognize them in ourselves. Unlike Thomas Williams’ Leah, New Hampshire, though, which is similarly focussed on flawed and failing characters, there’s no particular nobility in Chris; we are given unfettered access to his inner monologues and never see him rise very high above his pettiness. That we still feel compassion for him is testament to Woiwode’s skill.