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Submitted Literature

Karoo

By Steve Tesich

Review

Saul Karoo is a successful Hollywood scriptwriter and well-respected man.   He is also an alcoholic, something his peers consider de rigueur with writers, and so choose to ignore.  Saul’s alcoholism, therefore, never collides with his ability to make money and forge a career, so professionally at least, there does not appear to be a problem.  Things are very different in his personal life, however, where the years of alcoholism and infidelity have taken their toll on his marriage, and he is terrified of developing any kind of emotional closeness with his adopted son.

Saul’s failure as a family man weighs heavy on his sensitive and idealistic mind, and his desire to make amends for these shortcomings becomes the backbone of the plot.  Yet Saul is alcoholic, he is impulsive, he is not capable of delaying gratification and so is unable to plan for the future.  He does not accept that the solution to his problems is to stop drinking and spend more time with his wife and son, who remain ready to give him another chance; rather he looks for answers in the grand gesture, the one that will vindicate his past behaviour without him ever having to confront his alcoholism.  Saul’s energy, therefore, is not invested in sobriety, but is instead engaged in manipulating a situation that he believes will fix his life in one fell swoop, and with these schemes on the horizon, he abdicates all responsibility for changing his behaviour in the present.

The book paints a portrait of a man at the end of the line, but it never falls into the trap of stereotyping the alcoholic as down-and-out and unloved.  Saul is lauded by his professional acquaintances, and despite his failings his family never abandon him.  Yet his emotions have become so corrupted by alcoholism that he is incapable of making choices based on truly honest motivations. 

The book is a dark comedy, and moments of humour dominate much of it.  It is only later, as you consider Saul’s inability to control the events that swirl around him, that the depth and sharpness of the desperation become apparent.  This is a hugely underrated and largely unknown testament to a personality in the grip of an alcoholic turmoil, and of a man who is living with the constant fear of an impending narcissistic injury that he knows is waiting for him when he is finally forced to confront his alcoholism.

Key Themes:

  • Alcoholism

Significant Quotes / Pages

When the limo finally stopped outside her building, she recoiled in horror when I tried to give her a good-night kiss on the cheek. 

The way she fled from me, out of the limo, as if running for her life.

The way the limo driver took notice of everything but, being a professional, made it seem he was oblivious to the whole thing.

The way I tried to chat him up.

The taste in my mouth.  The way the saliva tasted like somebody else's.

Moods, I thought, moods was all I had.  Waxing moods, waning moods. 

I could not hold on to anything.

Reference: Steve, Tesich. 1998. Karoo. Vintage, 2006

Reviewer

Mr Matt Jones
Date Review Submitted: Thursday 1st September 2011