The Fiction of Philip Kaveny
Some reflections on a brilliant new author Julie Iromuanya’s debut novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor Paperback: 288 pagesPublisher: Coffee House Press (May 12, 2015)
Language: EnglishISBN-10: 1566893976ISBN-13: 978-1566893978 price 15.95
By Philip Kaveny
My thesis is simply this: I contend that the American Dream did not actuality fail in any sense for any of the major characters in Julie Iromuanya’s debut novel Mr. and Mrs. Doctor. This is because in her novel the American Dream functions exactly the way it has and was intended to over the last four hundred years of global history. It fulfilled its function of the perpetuation and promoting of non-egalitarian social and power relationships in its various historical iterations as trans-national global capitalism continues on its mission of self, and perhaps ultimately planetary, destruction.
Like many works of literature Iromuanya’s novel is subject to multiple readings which bring many types of pleasure to the reader. Of course starting with the first sentence of the first chapter. “EVERYTHING JOB OGBONAYA KNEW ABOUT SEX HE LEARNED FROM AMERICAN PORNOGRAPHY” (1). Iromuanya’s is capable of setting the scene for the gut wrenching humor that is to follow, for example , as Job in his first unchaperoned encounter with his bride purchased bride in the lavish bridal suite of the Presidential Hotel in Port Harcourt, Nigeria follows his source of knowledge in that area. “Job tore her lacy pink panties and only released his lips from her face to haltingly shout, “You–are-the dirty–slut-girl!”(1.)
Yet an instant later he finds that if pornography is part of the American Dream or perhaps more likely grotesquely pornographic itself as the author implicitly contented throughout the text. Throughout her novel in the actions of the various characters, starting with his bride as “Ifi punched his gut with the sharp heel of her sandal his version of the dream is challenged. He Crumpled.” Thus we see by her resistance to Jobs’ attempt to pornographically objectify her as part of his fulfillment of his own American Dream, drawn from a mythology of objectification and submission that Ifi is not buying his American Dream played out on her submissive body (1).
But even more important is that in a highly ironic manner the American Dream seems to be most perpetuated by those that are most oppressed under it. They experience this oppression through its promise that with hard work and good intentions one can somehow not only change the material conditions of one life but be allowed to do smoothing culturally admirable. Their contribution, those of Mr. and Mrs. Doctor were to emigrate from Nigeria and, in Job’s case, return under the pretense of the illusion of being a medical doctor rather than the nurses’ aid or practical nurse that he is. He returns home after negotiating a bride price, spending a short time returning to America with his new bride, and then returning again to Nigeria to found a medical complex thus bringing honor to his extend Nigerian family who has footed the Bill for the protagonist Job’s medical education, at an apparent significant hardship to themselves. By page 13 Job’s American Dream is right on target as he does not get into medical school and uses his remaining funds to purchase a marriage to his first wife Cheryl, for the purpose of immigration, at the urging of his buddy Emeka. Emeka in an earlier era might have played the role of the hipster-trickster but in this novel he has the function of giving Job bad advice of biblical proportions at every turn, ensnaring Job in an inescapable web of deception so much a part of the American Dream. I also argue that death and callousness to human suffering on the part of males is an implicit, though often unarticulated, expectation of the American Dream as in the case of the death of Emeka and Gladys’ child in the delivery room in chap 5 (67-73).
Thinking just a bit more about Emeka I think we see that he has mastered the part of the American Dream which demands of, or at least that plagues, males with a hyper-constructed masculinity the of the sort which would seek consolation in a strip club at the death of Emeka’s child in the delivery room and Job and Emeka’s choice to seek consolation for his loss and work Job’s money problems with his former wife Cheryl as we are presented the strip club scene not though the characters’ but the author’s eyes (page 70).
A string of scantily clad women not being in group size stood on the stage in various poses. At 20 they were destined for cruel middle-aged. Emeka glowered. He called them ugly harlots, cows. He said,” see that one, and that one. Ashawo!” He waved dismissively at their stretch marks, at the dollar dip of their nipples. “We already have children. What kind of mothers dance naked? Shameless.”
Julie Iromuanya writes with the humor and clarity of Charles Dickens. From a my own Frankfurt school Marxisti perspective, she realizes a scene of socio-economic oppression through her literary craft in way could not be achieved by synopsizing the entirety of six thousand five hundred fifty four peer reviewed articles available through the UW-Eau Claire McIntyre database array. And further Karl Marx would have approved, saying as he did in 1859 that Dickens “issued to the world more political and social truths than have been uttered by all the parliaments ii
To elaborate what I’m saying, the behavior of Job and Emeka going to a strip club to work out Jobs’ woman problems, and to Emeka to seek consolation not so much for the death of his child or his wife’s suffering in the emergency room are not statements about the individual ethical standards of the two characters but rather of the hyper-masculine morale of the of the American Dream which is their moral underpinning. This is not an example of individual bad behavior but rather a faulty moral, or immoral, constructions of trans-global capitalism. A better writer than I would be able to cover all the characters in the novel in the short paper, but rather than do that I will focus on a few more of the minor characters because I think that is where the author makes her most effective representation, and, I would argue, really articulates the purpose of her novel. Her purpose is first to identify, foreground and articulate Job’s false consciousness where he assumes that he is not black and somehow, as evidenced by his attempt to fabricate a false identity as a medical doctor, perpetuates a kind of Marxist alienation and perpetuation of the false consciousness which as we can see ultimately alienates him from those who are trapped in capitalism’s bottom levels. They sometimes work 80 hours a week doing the kinds of work which white people never do unless they absolutely have to. Personally having worked 30 years doing the kind of janitorial and toilet cleaning work which Job would escape from, I relate by allusion to his two possible fates, particularly after he adds his second shift job at the meatpacking plant. It is difficult not to become sympathetic to why he does what he does even in the caves and captured in an alienated and alienating system.
Yet there is a paradoxical aspect to Iromuanya’s work which makes her more than simply a promising, academically approved, even regaled young writer launching her first novel. What I mean by this is that if we turn to page 89 and we examine Job’s role as a nurse’s aide interacting and in a positive warm and very human way with the character Captain, one of the patients in the residence of which he has charge, we see Job in another light. The Captain is an old man who had first appeared to be in some state of rigor mortis but Job does not fall back on his own convenience. Rather the Captain was encrusted with his own excrement which it was Job’s duty to clean up, as the author describes in graphic detail.
Shivers rose I’m captain strongly, hairy legs as Joe, with a white, follow the path of the feces along captains leg. He pretended the old man failed is a shame as he did. He pretended he was a doctor and Capt. was the patient, and that he was examining him, and that he could hear the slow drum of the old man’s heart brief to risk a stethoscope. Like Ifi’s .Ifi’s stomach and ministerial drum, and the baby is what it felt like the flutter of a heartbeat. As he worked wildly, Joe didn’t tell a captain about what he felt when his boy kicked through Ifi’ stomach instead he told the captain about television.
In conclusion I would argue that Iromuanya is writing her novel past even the acquisition of academic cultural capital, which is so important to everyone’s career, and she writes to shock us into thinking about ourselves as Americans and about how we have constructed the American Dream. Even over my lifetime more and more Americans are being excluded as America becomes a progressively even less egalitarian society. But I feel that the above-mentioned passage, which will have to stand for many passages like it, shows that Job is really doing meaningful and nurturing work providing comfort and relief to the feces encrusted Captain. I would argue that as a novel, Mr. and Mrs. Doctor may be thought of as a burlesque parody of the American Dream on one level, and on another level Iromuanya might be arguing for a metaethics of care as exemplified by the previous passage, the first step being to expose the American Dream as a as the mechanism of hegemonic oppression that so many of us contend it is.