Ticknor is the first novel by Sheila Heti, the author of the acclaimed story collection The Middle Stories and, with Misha Glouberman, the essay collection The Chairs are Where the People Go.
George Ticknor is trying to reconcile his own failure with the success of his boyhood friend, the famous American historian William Prescott. Ticknor's life has been reduced to a series of awkward meetings, failed dinner parties, and other misfortunes he is loath to own up to. Situated in the complicated and contradictory moments that make friendships both tenuous and difficult to relinquish, Ticknor's fixated thoughts about his and Prescott's dissimilar fates lead him through a litany of rationalizations and recriminations, a psychological maze that is paranoid and harrowing as well as ludicrous and absurd.
In George Ticknor, Sheila Heti has created a memorable new hero of Prufrockian dimension. Ticknor is an exquisite singularity.
The rancorous, interminable friendship between a Great Man and his envious, self-pitying biographer drives this cleverly coiled narrative by Canadian author Heti (The Middle Stories). As Heti notes, she has based this slender, first-person work on American George Ticknor's mid-19th-century biography of historian William Hickling Prescott, but the lonely, querulous voice of her invented George is all her own. The book opens as George steps out on a rainy Boston night to answer a rare, longed for invitation to dinner at the illustrious Prescotts of Beacon Street; he and William Prescott were childhood friends. The loss of an eye during a boyhood frolic galvanized William, who resolved to always overcome adversity and cheerfully so. He has subsequently gained fame and admiration from his historiography and sunny nature. George, by contrast, is poor, morose and covetous. What he does possess is a terrible guilt, never expressed to William, about his possible role in the mishap that changed William's life. Heti's narrative is as deliciously intimate and clue-riddled as a Poe story.