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The World Out There

John D. Talbird, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


The World Out There is a novel placed in Gainesville, FL during the early nineties and its North-central Florida setting is important as both physical and psychological space. In addition to Spanish moss, heat-radiating highways, and palmettos, the novel explores the violence beneath the glittering surface of the “sunshine” state: racial tensions, neo-conservative violence against nonconformists, and a fictionalization of a brutal string of serial murders at the end of the 20th century, the 1990 Danny Rolling killings. Although neither Rolling nor any of his victims are actual characters in the novel, this fictionalized version of the murders acts as an ominous backdrop for the action. The car wreck into Lake Walters, coming within the first pages of the book, is like a catalyst for action—the concentric waves radiating from the car dropping through that lake surface like the danger reverberating throughout the narrative, danger which touches three of the characters' lives: the child Hank's near-drowning, his mother Jan's rape, a vicious beating which Jan's friend William endures. ^ A big part of the novel concerns reading people, discovering the private personalities that exist beneath the public ones. The chapters from William's perspective are sprinkled with images of his tattoos. These symbols offer us clues as to the secret self William hides beneath his exterior even as he tries to make meaning of the exterior/interior selves of the other characters in the novel. These tattoos also relate to a major theme—the importance of self-expression and connection with others—a theme which keeps the novel from being bleak despite the traumas inflicted on the different characters. In fact, the book is, finally, hopeful, concerning how people manage to find purpose and meaning in a scary, sometimes meaningless world. The novel argues for the necessity of art, for creating beautiful things. Even more importantly, the novel argues that in a very dangerous world people must forge connections with others, that they must overcome their fears, and that they must love. ^

Subject Area

Literature, Modern|Literature, American

Recommended Citation

Talbird, John D., "The World Out There" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3126969.