Bartleby’s Revenge

Bartleby’s Revenge

Bartleby’s Revenge is a coming of age story that follows two childhood friends, Jimmy Lemond and Peter LeBlanc, as they negotiate their complex childhood relationship in Houma, Louisiana. The haunting death of Peter’s father on an ill-fated fishing trip, and the impact of Peter’s sexual dysphoria shape their lives into their upward years. 


While many novels have chronicled the impact of the Vietnam War on those who saw active duty, Bartleby’s Revenge is witness to Jimmy and Peter’s inner turmoil as, like Herman Melville’s inscrutable character, Bartleby, they decide, each in their own unique way, that they “prefer not to” take up arms. Jimmy’s tenure as a student journalist finds him on the front lines of student protest of the Vietnam War and the intense struggle to end racism and segregation in his college community. Peter joins the Mennonites for peace work in Vietnam and discovers in the Mother Goddess rituals spiritual confirmation of his gender transformation to Patty. 


Once Jimmy decamps from journalism to literary studies, his obsession with Melville’s Bartleby takes a strange turn when he sees his childhood friend on the evening news broadcast. Peter, now Patty, is captain of a LGBTQ shrimping crew protesting the continuing legacy of the BP oil industry on their Gulf fishing grounds. Patty has escaped to sea and Jimmy feels compelled to track her down. 


What an intriguing and unexpected tale Robitaille gives us.  Bratleby’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

Robitaille’s prose is smooth and sharp-eyed, as when Jimmy sees his mother for the first time after returning from college: “His mom wore a mismatched flowered housedress and threadbare sweater. Her hair had turned so gray he wondered if she was wearing a wig.” He has a talent for crafting character and detailing relationships, particularly the complex ones that exist between family members and between friends who are more than just friends.

From Kirkus Reviews

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