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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan

Tanguy Viel

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To purchase The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan

Title: The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan
Author: Tanguy Viel
Genre: Novel
Written: 2013 (Eng. 2021)
Length: 132 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan - US
The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan - UK
The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan - Canada
La disparition de Jim Sullivan - Canada
La disparition de Jim Sullivan - France
Das Verschwinden des Jim Sullivan - Deutschland
  • French title: La disparition de Jim Sullivan
  • Translated by Clayton McKee

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Our Assessment:

B : a fun idea, quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
L'Express . 8/4/2013 Baptiste Liger
The French Review . (87:3) 3/2014 Warren Motte
l'Humanité . 21/3/2013 Jean-Claude Lebrun
Libération . 6/3/2013 Philippe Lançon
L'Obs . 12/3/2013 Jean-Louis Ezine

  From the Reviews:
  • "Dès lors, faudrait-il voir dans La Disparition de Jim Sullivan une compilation de clichés éculés depuis près de vingt ans ? Absolument. Et c'est fait exprès, pour la grande joie du lecteur et de l'auteur. (...) Le roman ne saurait se résumer à cette seule intrigue, micmac des oeuvres de Philip Roth, Joyce Carol Oates, Laura Kasischke, Jim Harrison ou Richard Ford." - Baptiste Liger, L'Express

  • "Il ne faut pas s’y tromper : malgré les apparences, Tanguy Viel n’a pas écrit un roman américain, mais une fiction typiquement « made in France ». 
Toute de références, de clins d’œil et d’ironie. Avec 
pour décor en trompe-l’œil les États-Unis, leur littérature et ses poncifs. (...) De tout cela surgit un véritable petit joyau littéraire." - Jean-Claude Lebrun, l'Humanité

  • "La Disparition de Jim Sullivan peut rejoindre sur les étagères le rayon roman américain, le rayon roman français, le rayon critique littéraire, ou passer de l'un à l'autre suivant les pages et son humeur. Accessoirement et sans le dire, Tanguy Viel montre comment la Vérité sur l'affaire Harry Quebert, best-seller à l'américaine de Joël Dicker publié cet automne aux éditions de Fallois, joint tant de succès à tant de stupidité." - Philippe Lançon, Libération

  • "Un zeste d'ufologie, des barbecues géants, des routes toutes droites témoignent d'un sens aiguisé du détail qui fera reconnaître au lecteur qu'il est dans un authentique roman américain. On ne sait bientôt plus si la parodie se joue de l'intrigue, ou l'inverse. Ecrire, c'est mystifier. Chapeau, the artist !" - Jean-Louis Ezine, L'Obs

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The concept behind The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan is great: the French author writing the novel admits that he's hit a wall writing French stories, set in France, with French characters: "I think I gave up on France mainly because I found it too static, too petrified, somehow". What to do ? Write an American novel instead ! After all: "It was a breath of fresh air when I read American novels -- international novels, as I took to saying". (The fact that they're successful -- "translated into every language and are sold in almost every bookstore" -- is of course part of the allure for the author seeking greater recognition.)
       What is provincial when it comes from France somehow comes across as universal when it is American:

Even authors from Montana who write about hunting and fishing and gathering firewood for the winter sell just as many copies in Paris as in New York. I can't wrap my head around it. We have hectares of forests and rivers, we have a country that has twice the fishing and hunting of Montana, yet we can't manage to write international novels.
       So he decides to have a go at it, picking locales, a name for his protagonist -- Dwayne Koster --, the title ('The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan', of course), and what he imagines to be a through-and-through American story.
       The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan then offers both a writing-of account as well as a detailed summary-version of 'The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan' itself. The author describes some of his process, such as imagining backstory for some of his characters that does not actually make it into the novel but is useful to him, while also slowly unfolding the story proper. He also comments on some of the ambiguities of the text, uncertainty he writes into it: "I don't know whether we really grasp what Dwayne understood about those stories", for example, or: "You'd never really know why he did that in my novel".
       He means to write a very American story, and so he latches onto elements he sees as quintessentially American -- or rather, characteristic of the 'American novel'. So, for example: "I also noticed that in American novels, one of the main characters was always a university professor", and so his protagonist is Dr. Dwayne Koster, professor of American literature at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. And, because: "Adultery is a very important part of American novels. It's even an obsession of American novels", adultery of course figures prominently in the novel he's writing.
       The author's novel is mainly set around 2003 and the American invasion of Iraq; as the author notes:
This type of event, which hovers over books, can involve the characters in problems of their times.
       So it will, as part of the plot, with something that Dwayne gets involved in. But first the story circles back to how Dwayne got here in the first place, describing the collapse of his marriage a few years earlier, when his wife learnt of his affair with his young student, Milly Hartway. Although almost three decades younger than Dwayne, Milly and Dwayne fall for each other. As the author puts it: "their story resembled something from a book" -- and as Dwayne is a professor of literature and his student-lover reads: "sophisticated books by Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo" they of course see it that way too:
     It's true, said Dwayne, that our story resembles something from a book. I'd say one by Jim Harrison, don't you think ? And she answered no, that it was a story by a woman, a story by Laura Kasischke or Joyce Carol Oates. Or even one by Richard Ford, he thought, watching a moth get annoyed at the ceiling light. Maybe Alice Munro, she thought. No, I know, he continued, it's one by Philip Roth.
       Yes, maybe they weren't so much on the same page after all .....
       When the novel opens, Dwayne is still obsessed with his estranged wife (though kept at a distance by the restraining order) -- and the man he faults for getting between them, colleague and nemesis Alex Dennis. A few years earlier, when his wife had confronted him about the affair and kicked him out of the house Dwayne had simply packed up and left. As appropriate for an American novel, significant parts of 'The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan' are road-novel. So also, while Dwayne's affair with Milly continues for a while, he finds himself searching for a place and hold -- and job; he winds up clerking at a video-store (a job Milly arranges for him). When he comes to learn that Milly isn't exactly the girl he imagined, he acts out, a mental collapse that finds him, for a while, in a psychiatric ward. Eventually he gets himself into (unrelated) deeper trouble: he was warned that: "If you end up in the shit, no one's going to pull you out", and that turns out to be true. Ultimately, Dwayne finds himself all on his own.
       Or not entirely. The ghost of Jim Sullivan -- the real-life singer who mysteriously disappeared in the New Mexico desert in 1975 -- hovers, unsurprisingly, over much of the story, from early on; as the author eventually admits -- but: "as has been clear for a long time: the reason for this book is Jim Sullivan".
       The author repeatedly mentions Sullivan's story -- this enduring mystery --, and he sums it up, too:
And there you have it, that's America: no one knows what happened and his body was never found.
       To the author, the Jim Sullivan mystery is the ultimate American tale. So also in the conclusion, in describing his protagonist's fate, he sums that up as well: "There you have it. That's America".
       American reader's might scratch their head some at some of this -- but that's also part of the fun of the novel, as, despite the author's (and Viel's) best efforts, The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan remains decidedly French. (This is, of course, part of the point Viel is making, as he very much emphasizes that the fictional 'The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan' isn't an American novel but a work of fiction as conceived by a French author (as then The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan is also a work conceived by a French author ...).) Even if there is nothing overtly French to 'The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan' -- beyond the author --, and locale and characters are all (what the author imagines to be typically ...) American, the author can't, so to speak, get out of his French writing-skin.
       It's a clever idea and an amusing exercise, and quite well realized -- though readers may wish Viel had pushed the whole thing to even greater extremes.

- M.A.Orthofer, 23 May 2021

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The Disappearance of Jim Sullivan: Reviews: Other books by Tanguy Viel under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French author Tanguy Viel was born in 1973.

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© 2021 the complete review

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