Herbert Lobsenz's new novel, Succession, was a long time coming. After winning the Harper Prize in 1961 for
Vangel Griffin, Lobsenz put his energies into the corporate arena, leaving fiction as merely something he
once did. Now retired, Lobsenz has returned to his first love and has produced a complex piece of literature which
could only have been written after over four decades of living in another mindset.
Succession is the story of Jake Garrison, who, like Lobsenz, turns from writing to industry. Except in
this instance, Garrison leaves something he's not very good at and turns to the thing he loves most and has an
instinctive flair for.
As the novel begins in the early 1960s, Garrison comments about the people outside his city apartment window who
walked a tightrope "across a sea of sulfuric acid that drained into a dense black hole." He has disdain for and
despair over the daily corporate grind, yet at the same time he's not happy sitting at a typewriter trying to
chronicle and decipher the meaning of his father's and grandfather's lives to give his own life some substance
and to feel connected to these men he admired. When his father, a physician, falls victim to cancer and is
hospitalized, Garrison must find money to pay his father's mounting debts, so he accepts a job as an undercover
corporate investigator whose main purpose is to find a way for his employer to buy the real estate a typewriter
company holds, even if it means shutting down a major sales and manufacturing corporation. It looks as if Garrison
himself will be walking that tightrope over the acid sea daily.
Against this backdrop, Garrison deals with a rocky marriage which becomes all the more shaky when his wife Diana
becomes pregnant and his insecurity makes him doubt he is the father. Diana finds a feminist female obstetrician who
insists—quite revolutionary for the times—that Diana can have a baby and continue to work. Diana's own
tightrope walking becomes even more stressful when she realizes the publishing company she works for is rapidly
trying to replace her.
Garrison and his wife's social circle reflect much of the social angst of the urban middle class of the era and
their attitudes often reflect what Garrison saw played out every day in the corporate world.
Succession is definitely a book to be discussed and should be a modern selection in the college classroom.
I continue to ponder the insights Lobsenz presents in this novel and keep discovering more as I discuss the book with
friends. I really enjoyed the corporate parts of the book because in some ways they were more alive than Garrison's
social network, though most of these business characters were drowning in that acid sea, with no clue what was
happening to them. However, Lobsenz painted them with precision. Even in their folly and prejudices, they were never
reduced to the pettiness that I saw in Garrison's friends.
The only thing I had some difficulty with in this book was Lobsenz's dialog. I'm sure he wrote it as he heard
real people speak, but I had to reread several passages to get what was said. Most dialog uses a lot of contractions,
sometimes putting four words together into one big one. Here Lobsenz often left out parts of speech in someone's
conversation, usually some connector which would help me understand what was said. I didn't get comfortable with it
until about halfway through the book. Looking back, it did give the book extra color.
Succession is a definite success for Herbert Lobsenz. Let's see what else he has in store now that he has
returned to the literary path.