View Full Version : Confidence-Man: His Masquerade

04-25-2007, 10:24 PM
This was Melville's last novel published during his lifetime, and it's a dense, metaphorical labyrinth that not many readers in 1857 cared to explore. His reputation had ebbed ever since his novels became more experimental, and this work didn't restore any of his departed celebrity.

Fans of Nabokov and Pynchon, however, should take a look at this imaginative satire. It's a novel that plays tricks on the reader's expectations in the same way as Pale Fire or V., and demands a careful reading to unlock its many secrets.

It's April 1, and a riverboat departs St. Louis for New Orleans. The travelers are all involved in cons or scams of one sort or another, and there seems to be one confidence-man shifting personae throughout the narrative. Everything is in disguise: motives, identities, and meanings.

The con-games themselves aren't the focus, and they're fairly conventional: herbal medicine, land deals, fraudulent charities and the like. The interesting part is the way any skepticism to the scams is criticized as a character flaw. The devil ensures that only through surrendering to selfishness and nihilism can people be protected from the schemes.

As you'd expect from a Melville novel, there is plenty of philosophical talk between the predators and their prey. There are references to religion, literature, and history aplenty. Anyone seeking a potboiler is in the wrong volume here. This is a complex work that is just as challenging in its way as Moby-Dick.

06-26-2007, 07:10 PM
It is a neglected novel. The Confidence Man may not be as dramatic as Moby Dick, but it certainly is much more intelligent and witty. And, the story holds your attention more than Moby Dick. Unfortunately, though, the novel doesn't reach any definitively conclusions about its theme. The reader is never sure whether to trust or doubt humanity. The novel is an unfinished thought, and it ends with an unfinished scene.