12 January 2003
Sit right back and you'll hear a tale
Tom Carson's seriously-wacko novel Gilligan's Wake isn't quite as Joycean as the title implies, though the opening section, in which the narrator, claiming to be one Maynard G. Krebs, discovers that he's not hanging with the Beats by the Bay after all but is in the Mayo Clinic's Cleaver Ward, overseen by the stern Dr. Kildare F. Troop, is riddled with enough entendres, double, triple and fourple, to live up to Finnegan's standard.
From then on, it's every storyteller for himself. A Navy man tells tales of WWII-era PT boats with Quinton McHale and Jack Kennedy; a millionaire describes his role in the rise of Alger Hiss and his all-too-loveless marriage; his wife recounts life in West Egg during the Jazz Age and a friend named Daisy; a star of B (and occasionally C) pictures meets up with the Rat Pack; a young woman from Kansas finds fascination at the Sorbonne; and somehow all of their lives are intertwined by the machinations of an evil genius a professor, in fact.
As a metaphor for 20th-century American history, Gilligan's Wake works better than it has any right to. Audacious and occasionally laugh-out-loud funny, it's a glorious confection, with a high incidence of "What the hell was that?" Lots of brain candy, though the flavoring masks empty calories here and there; I don't see this becoming America's answer to Tristram Shandy or anything, but it's a good way to spend a three-hour tour.
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