Doppelganger Fiction: Ghostly Doubles in American Novels

The Divine Comedy is not an American novel.

Doppelganger Fiction: Ghostly Doubles in American Novels

Heidi Julavits
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The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri

Dante Alighieri’s poetic masterpiece in which in the poet Dante Alighieri, in the middle of his life (age thirty-five), is led by Virgil on a tour of Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise. Along the way he encounters Minos, Florentine poets, ancient Greeks, the Devil, and Beatrice, the woman he loves. The descent into Hell is the most famous and widely-read of the three volumes that make up The Divine Comedy; perhaps because Purgatory reminds us too much of our daily lives, and Paradise is a place we’d rather imagine ourselves.


Operation Shylock

by Philip Roth

Philip Roth the Jewish writer is plagued by Philip Roth the Anti-Zionist—an imposter who gives lectures in Israel advocating that all Jews return to their eastern European countries of origin. Needless to say, this makes Real, Fictional Roth rather displeased, and he goes to Israel to track down Fake, Fictional Roth to clear his “name” (which has less and less precise meaning as the story progresses). In the process, Real, Fictional Roth poses many insightful questions about identity and Jewishness, among other more bawdy


A Fan’s Notes

by Frederick Exley

Follow the sports fanatical “Ex” protagonist in a dipsomaniacal odyssey based very much on the real-life, self-destructive shenanigans of Ex the author. Includes laugh-out-loud funny excoriations of corporate culture and the girlfriend’s parents. This book will also depress the living hell out of you (in an excellent way).


I Dreamt I Was a Nymphomaniac: Imagining

by Kathy Acker

The protaganist, who introduces herself as Kathy Acker (“My name is Kathy Acker. The story begins by me being totally bored”) takes as her lover a man capable of deceiving both sexes. In turn, he takes her on a journey that explores her desires. This story of sexual obsession miraculously transforms into an account of the history of prisoners whose rights have been abused.


The Feast of Love

by Charles Baxter

Charles Baxter the struggling novelist wakes from a nightmare, takes a walk, and bumps into his friend Bradley. Bradley strives to help Baxter’s novel by offering his services as the main character; he sends his acquaintances to Baxter so that he can include them as characters, too. A funny, poignant twist on the muse myth (and on writing workshops), Baxter gamely receives writing counsel from Bradley and Bradley’s friends. The result is a novel in which the “writer” is the only character, and the characters are the writers.


Everything Is Illuminated

by Jonathan Safran Foer

A young Jewish American named Jonathan Safran Foer travels to the Ukraine where he meets a young Ukranian, Alex Perchov. Together, along with Perchov’s grandfather and a canine companion named Sammy Davis, Jr., Jr., they set out on a journey through Eastern Europe in hopes of finding the woman who saved Safran Foer’s grandmother from the Nazis.


The Last Rock Star Book; or, Liz Phair, a Rant

by Camden Joy

The pseudonymical Camden Joy’s—alias of a real-life guerrilla cult band pamphlet scribbler—first novel features a protagonist named Camden Joy, a slacker on the slide who’s hired to write a bio of musician Liz Phair. Joy is overwhelmed by the assignment; the result is an energetic, entertainingly indulgent spin-out about squandered youth.              Compiled by HJ and VV

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