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The Verificationist: A Novel Paperback – March 27, 2001


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage (March 27, 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0679769439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679769439
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.2 x 0.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,868,815 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

The narrator of Donald Antrim's The Verificationist is a middle-aged psychotherapist who meets a handful of colleagues at a pancake house one evening to engage in the seemingly innocuous activity of socializing while eating stacks of fried batter. What commences is a psychosexual deadpan comedy fraught with academic grandstanding, subtle flirting, and lots of good eatin'. Before long, Tom decides to start a food fight, but is restrained in a bear hug by Bernhardt, the father figure of the group. Our hero then proceeds to have an out-of-body experience in which he eavesdrops on his cohorts and ruminates on such things as the very essence of the pancake:
We eat pancakes to escape loneliness, yet within moments we want nothing more than our freedom from ever having so much as thought about pancakes. Nothing can prevent us, after eating pancakes, from feeling the most awful regret. After eating pancakes, our great mission in life becomes the repudiation of the pancakes and everything served along with them, the bacon and the syrup and the sausage and coffee and jellies and jams. But these things are beneath mention, compared with the pancakes themselves. It is the pancake--Pancakes! Pancakes!--that we never learn to respect.
Antrim's prose, at home somewhere between the psychologist's couch and a diner's Naugahyde booth, follows this tack for just shy of 200 pages, without chapter or page breaks. Readers familiar with the writer's earlier novels, The Hundred Brothers and Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World, will spot this as his preferred modus operandi.

Tom, likewise, follows in the tradition of Antrim's other narrators--a timid yet well-meaning intellectual training his considerable observational and confessional skills upon a tableau at once pathetically banal and rife with meaning. Antrim has a talent for creating characters who speak contemporary psychobabble that falls far short of explaining the absurdity of their dilemmas. Rebecca, the pulchritudinous teenage waitress, and Escobar, Tom's suave Mediterranean friend, not only play their hour upon stage with earnest precision but serve to accentuate Tom's essentially pitiful nature. While Antrim's cast this time out is considerably downsized (literally 100 brothers appeared in The Hundred Brothers), he remains a writer who delights in bouncing disparate characters off one another with hilarious, disastrous results.

In plumbing the pathologies of millennial manhood, The Verificationist is part Robert Bly men's retreat, part sex comedy, and part doctoral thesis. It is served up like a combo platter, best enjoyed in a single sitting, and undeniably tasty. --Ryan Boudinot --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

In his first two novels, Antrim addressed the individual's place in society (Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World) and in the family (The Hundred Brothers). Now he challenges the very notion of the individual, in another darkly comic tour-de-farce that's at once attenuated and hyperkinetic. In a small and nameless northeastern city, a group of psychoanalysts has convened at the local Pancake House & Bar for a casual dinner and discussion of their shared specialty--significantly, "Self/Other Friction Theory." The dinner has been organized by the narrator, Tom, who seems stuck in an adolescent stage of development: he spits water at his colleagues, props trash cans against their office doors and, here at the restaurant, wants to launch a decisive food fight against the child psychologists. But before he can throw his cinnamon-raisin toast, he's confined in the monstrous embrace of Richard Bernhardt, the group's father figure. Hoisted in the air, Tom suffers a literal loss of self, as an out-of-body experience leaves him floating near the restaurant ceiling. From this vantage point, simultaneously self and other, Tom watches as the dinner evolves into a series of arguments and seductions. Tom details these scenes minutely--"It is my hope," he says, "to make a picture of things as they were... and, through this process... say something worthwhile about what I call the verifiability of emotional experience"--yet there are tantalizing hints throughout that everything he's witnessing is an extended fantasy, all in his disembodied head. Antrim is a manic prose stylist, capable of balancing lush pastoral descriptions with outrageous turbocharged riffs on sex and marriage and psychoanalysis, and the novel hurtles toward its resolution at such breakneck speed that it's perhaps unsurprising when it ends on an abrupt and inconclusive note. Despite this minor letdown, Antrim has provided a striking meditation on the nature of self-identity and a fierce affirmation of the power of imagination. (Feb.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Customer Reviews

Written with finesse and packed with imagery this story soars on and on.
Amazon Customer
Be that as it may, an appearance of intellectualism may have disguised the multiple social boundary violations we've become used to in current entertainment.
V. READ
All in all, though, this book added up to far less than the sum of its parts.
Laurie Gold

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on February 4, 2004
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This 179-page novella is in a way the stream of consciousness of Tom, a middle-aged pyschologist who, meeting with his colleagues in a lower end pancake house, tries to start a food fight when a rival colleague, a burly man with a swollen ego, puts our narrator in a bear hug upon which Tom has an out of body experience in which he does a glorious exposition on the nature of pancake houses. The real business of this absurd (I mean that as a compliment), allegorical novel is to poke fun at the human need for safety, for mother, for the womb, all embodied by the pancake house. Tom's quest for a mother in the metaphorical sense compels him to invite his colleagues at this pancake emporium every year or so where they try to mend the their bruised egos, a quest that backfires. Antrim's major conflict in the novel is the human drive for safety vs. our utter sense of helplessness in this metaphysical parody, which showcases Antrim's brilliant writing skills. Why only four stars? Because after about 100 pages, I grew a bit tired of the metaphysical explorations. Similar themes are pursued with far more intensity and efficacy in my opinion in Antrim's 20-page essay, "I Bought a Bed," published in Best American Essays 2003.
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16 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 11, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Reading Antrim is proof positive of the adage that you can't dissect or explain humor. His stuff is just preposterously funny and unique. He had a short story in the NYer not long ago (and this is how I discovered him) about a lascivious high school teacher staging Shakespeare with students and I still can't think of it without laughing. This novel is the same way. Yet I can't "explain" the humor. It owes something, maybe, to Nabokov's Pale Fire and the voice of the grandiose, deluded, hilarious Charles Kinbote--but that's pretty imprecise. Antrim is his own thing, and he's a great discovery. A heartbreaking work of staggering humor.
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful By P. Meltzer on April 9, 2000
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Sometimes, when a book is CLEARLY schlocky, poorly written and/or unentertaining, it is easy to pan it without a second thought. With other books, however--which for the reader share only the "unentertaining" part--but which are otherwise not poorly written and on a more sophisticated level, one must step back and ask oneself: Let's wait a minute. Is it possible that this is a work of creative genius and that I simply don't "get it." That my imagination and/or intellect may be too limited to appreciate what a wonderful (provocative, intelligent, well-crafted, etc., etc.) book this actually is?
Well I asked myself those kinds of questions, and while I would readily concede that my reaction may well be a function of my own intellectual limitations, particularly given all the raves this book got, I don't care--I'm sticking with my convictions. I found the book to be almost insufferable throughout. It was nearly impossible for me to trudge all the way through- though I did, page by agonizing page, waiting for it to end. I simply can't believe that everyone who reads this book could find it so wonderful, and if I'm the only one in the world who would recommend against it, so be it.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By P. LoPinto on July 20, 2007
Format: Paperback
This book worked for about the first 30 pages and then not at all after that. The idea of a bunch of screwed up shrinks getting together was very creative and the execution of it was hysterical. The whole thing about the out-of-body experience didn't work and the book went downhill from there. I felt like I was wasting my time and couldn't wait until this book was over. I skipped a bunch of pages toward the back and resumed reading at the end, but it never got as good as in the beginning.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 14, 2000
Format: Hardcover
It's easy to see why someone may not like this book -- it doesn't really have a standard plot, and it goes back and forth between reality and fantasy. Traditional storytelling is just too important to most readers. Also, it is, at its core, a book about psycho-therapy, and certainly people have widely and wildly differing opinions on that. But the book has one of the most honest, open, and searching narrators to come down the pike in many a moon. I particularly loved that he was willing to fearlessly discuss intellectual matters, something new fiction does less and less frequently these days. And if it rests on intellectualism to be funny, what's wrong with that? To the extent that these are not the tactics of most pop ficiton writers today, whom all seem to write for a far lower common denominator, this is somewhat risky writing. Obviously, the writer is more concerned with telling this character's story than with crafting something that's going to go over with a mass audience. All of which made me love this book. It's not for everyone, but neither is fine wine, nor the Marx Brothers.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 20, 2000
Format: Hardcover
A light book on the surface - but when you're finished, it begs to be read again to make sure you picked up all the subtle nuances. The unorthodox 'plot' works well and the narrative is always crisp ( my only problem with the storytelling is that annoying habit 'serious' authors feel they must invoke these days of an overly conversant tone - phrases like 'you see' and 'shall I say' etc). Tom is kind of an everyman trying to figure out the daily game of life on immediate and philosophical levels. He is given the advantage of a bird's eye view (literally) of his world and doesn't waste the unique opportunity.
I'd recommend this to anyone looking for something slightly different, but still accesible
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