Beckett's Children

Rooted in Coffey's experience as an adoptee, this book is a lyrical blend of personal memoir, father-son dialogue, and literary investigation that probes the works of Irish writer Samuel Beckett and American poet Susan Howe in search of traces of their status as father and daughter, long rumored but never dealt with in print. With seeming inevitability, the real-time saga of Coffey's adult son, at moments on the run or incarcerated, lacerates the text with reports of life without parental connection in a cold America.

Inherent within great literature are clues as to who we are and where we came from. Literature, or language itself, can serve "as a lifeline," as Coffey puts it, especially for those who might be lost and searching. As an adoptee, for decades Coffey looked to literature for traces of his own origin story and lineage, a heritage held in secret by a closed adoption system but which he was able to decipher in his own way, mostly through books and cultural signs. When Coffey heard the rumor that the great experimental American poet Susan Howe might be the daughter of the great Irish writer Samuel Beckett, he began to look closely at their respective oeuvres, searching for textual clues as to what they knew, consciously or unconsciously, about a possible filiation.

Although the rumor is not true, according to Howe, Coffey's near obsession with the possibility led to a deep admiration for Howe's sustained acts of sorcery from within the archives of colonial history and her profound recognition of her own contrarian--or "antinomian"--place within the tradition. With respect to Beckett, Coffey began to focus on the dozens of unattended children wandering throughout the corpus, a poorly understood aspect that Coffey is persuaded is one of the recurring "loops" that contribute to the magical conjuration that makes Beckett so persistently read and performed.

Coffey's book suggests new ways to enter the brilliant and challenging textual worlds of these two highly respected artists that should inspire new research and become an important text in both American poetics and the vibrant world of Beckett studies. Giving the book a very personal heft is the urgent, striving, needy and defensive voice of Coffey's son, Joshua, on the run in the Indiana woods, in underground employment worlds, or back in custody, a voice we read in text messages that tries the patience of the father and reveals a possible route to contrition and recovery for both father and son. Throughout, Coffey's own prose, poetry and personal reflections add poignancy to these investigations.

Publication Date: 
July 30, 2024