The Enigma Quartet
Beginning in January 2021, I am publishing four short satiric novels as I make my belated debut in the world of fiction. The Cardiff Giant, first off the block, is a satire on human gullibility set in Cooperstown, New York. The Great Cyprus Think Tank (fall 2021) satirizes utopian ideals without giving up on them altogether. Out of Wedlock (January 2022), a satire on self-refashioning, identity, and modern sexual practices, is set in Greenwich Village and Santa Fe. And The Woman in Green (spring 2022), set in New Harmony, Indiana, casts a skeptical eye on key aspects of American history and has a strong motif in suicide, mostly averted. A fifth volume, gathering all four novels as The Enigma Quartet, will follow, in January 2023.
Iguana Books, Toronto, is publishing the series in hardcover, paperback, epub, and Kindle. http://www.iguanabooks.ca Artist Marcia Scanlon has painted the four cover designs and a series of six or seven drawings depicting crucial moments in each novel. http://www.marciascanlon.com
These are stand-alone novels without continuing plot strands or repeating characters. But they have enough in common to be read as a "quartet." In each I launch a small cast of singular humans confronted with puzzles or enigmas who set out to resolve them. My characters suffer entanglements within the ranks and external threats but ultimately prevail in their quests through buoyancy, pluck, and affection. A cliché says it best: they stick together through thick and thin. The action moves from farce to pathos to renewed hope.
The enigma is often a matter of identity—sexual identity, yes—but more than this. In The Cardiff Giant, who or what is this creature that disappears from the Cooperstown's Farmers' Museum in spring 2003? In The Great Cyprus Think Tank, who or what is undermining the group's best efforts to salvage an island confronted by global warming, desertification, the selling of antiquities on the black market, and the endangerment of precious animal species? In Out of Wedlock, who are Jess Freeman's biological parents, and what explains the odd dissociative disorder that interferes with his career as a facial plastic surgeon? And in The Woman in Green, who is this quirky narrator writing with overt hostility to his readership in the year 2050 and wishing he were instead addressing readers of the 2020s?
As the characters—whether friends, lovers, or relations—group and regroup, they encounter adventures inflected by comic fantasy that call on a suspension of disbelief by readers who are receptive to glimpses of worlds beyond benighted leaders, wars and plagues. Though anchored in real-life Cooperstown, Cyprus, Greenwich Village, and New Harmony, The Enigma Quartet offers ways to loosen what Blake calls our "mind-forg'd manacles."
The Cardiff Giant
This novel, set in Cooperstown in 2003, is a satire on human gullibility, with focus on the paranormal and beliefs such as Carl Sagan discusses in The Demon-Haunted World. Published January 11, 2021, the novel is described below and in a sidebar.
The Great Cyprus Think Tank
This is the only novel in English I know of to make use of Cyprus as setting for a pointed satire. The divided island can be thought of as a world in miniature of what ails the human race. Side-lined today by Brexit, Middle East catastrophe, the coronavirus, and Trump, Cyprus should be at least onstage, if not center. The novel sets forth weighty themes but converts them to hilarity by dint of the strong personalities and disarming wit of the principals. The novel, described below and in a sidebar, was published Oct. 4, 2021.
Out of Wedlock
This novel is set in Greenwich Village and Santa Fe, 1989 to 2008. Jess Freeman, a facial plastic surgeon, is well-meaning but not fully competent and often delusional. His romantic misadventures put a check on half-truths in the modern debate over nature versus nurture. Though grounded in genuine surgical procedure (you'd think I really know something about it), the novel reaches well beyond realism and has a fairy-tale quality recalling the myth of Pygmalion. How fumbling Jess can pull off a superb makeover of a severely injured patient becomes clear in the end. Out of Wedlock makes use of time frames reflecting shifts in sexual practices—from the days of Edna St. Vincent Millay and D. H. Lawrence to the sexual revolution of the Sixties and Seventies to the hookup generation.
The Woman in Green
This novel is the most far-reaching and unconventional of the four. Its brittle and mannered narrator, writing in the year 2050, is overtly hostile to his contemporary readership and wishes he were addressing humans of the year 2022 or so, when there was still a bit of hope. His allusions to the shared culture of 2050 just don't add up, so the novel, unlike 1984, isn't strictly futuristic. I've returned to a premise similar to that of The Great Cyprus Think Tank. In the millennial year, 2000, Sam Coverdale forms an institute in New Harmony, Indiana, site of two failed early nineteenth-century utopias, one religious, one secular. The narrative structure implicitly echoes The Divine Comedy: Part One, like The Inferno, begins and ends with underground settings and macabre elements. Part Two is "purgatorial," with a severe testing of the characters on the world's stage, ending with attempted suicides following an internationally televised dramatic fiasco. Part Three manages to rescue some romantic ideals in keeping with the roman à clef contrivance that these characters are based loosely on British Romantic writers of Mary Shelley's Frankenstein circle. Declining suicide, a recurrent theme and plot element, the characters take to the air in a "paradisiacal" balloon flight to freedom.
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