Childhood friends Jimmy Lemond and Peter LeBlanc grow into adulthood during the tumultuous days of the Vietnam War. Like Herman Melville’s character, Bartleby, they both “prefer not to” take up arms, but they still can’t avoid turmoil.
Jimmy is a student journalist who soon finds himself on the front lines of protests, where his fellow students not only demand an end to war but also the end of racism and segregation in their college community. Peter is still haunted by his father’s death on an ill-fated fishing trip. He joins the Mennonites in Vietnam as a peace worker. Through his relationship with a Thai woman he is introduced to the Mother Goddess ceremony and finds spiritual confirmation of his gender transformation.
What an intriguing and unexpected tale Robitaille gives us. Bartleby’s Revenge kept me turning pages. The novel engages themes I care about a great deal, specifically those of peacemaking in response to war and of personality development through all the vicissitudes of social forces swirling around us. The story brought home for me in a renewed way the impact of the American War in Vietnam on individuals and families here in the US, particularly those with children facing the draft. For me as a Mennonite peacemaker, the draft was a welcome thing that midwifed me from a sheltered life here to years of peace work in Vietnam during the war, a path similar to that of one of the protagonist’s in the novel.
—Earl Martin, author of Reaching the Other Side (1978),
memoir of Mennonite peace work service in Vietnam
I loved it. The pairing of Peter and Jimmy is a beautiful framework; their divergence and reunion are really engaging. They achieve a reconciliation without sentimentality, predictability, or compromise of their richly developed characters.
—William C. Lineaweaver, MD, Editor in Chief,
Annals of Plastic Surgery
… That a son of New Bedford imagines his life and the biography of his generation through the lens of Melville’s Bartleby is a moving exemplar of a mystory, testing in novel form Nietzsche’s insight, that life is the iron hand of necessity shaking the dice box of chance.
—Gregory Ulmer, Professor of English, University of Florida
and author of Teletheory and Internet Invention