OUT OF WEDLOCK
In OUT OF WEDLOCK, Jess Freeman, a facial plastic surgeon who refashions the identities of others, knows little of his own identity. Who are his biological parents, and could they be the source of his sudden trances, when he drifts off into visionary worlds, by turns radiant and nightmarish? Reality checks--quick bops on the head--are administered by his nurse during delicate surgeries. But fumbling Jess pulls off a superb makeover of a severely injured patient, with a stunning sequel.
Set in Greenwich Village and Santa Fe from 1989 to 2008, Jess's romantic misadventures echo perils of the heart endured in the days of Edna St. Vincent Millay and D. H. Lawrence, the sexual revolution of the sixties and seventies, and today's hookup culture. But Jess and his close companions more than endure; whatever their fates, they are sustained by a group loyalty anchored in pluck, buoyancy, and affection. This is a novel of charmed human acts--from feasting and parading to sailing and dancing to yearning and loving to seeking roots and chasing jackrabbits. All these are brought within a brisk narrative of startling recognitions that prove transformative for Jess Freeman and his intimates.
THE GREAT CYPRUS THINK TANK is narrated by Bart Beasley, a dejected Canadian author of cultural memoirs who yearns to return to Cyprus, where he spent his youth and where he might shake off his ennui. He forms a think tank of renowned but flawed experts to tackle crises still besetting the fabled island in 2024. The birthplace of Aphrodite is parched, its famed sea turtles face extinction, its songbirds are swallowed whole by native epicures, and Greek Cypriots and Turkish Cypriots, if no longer dispatching one another, rarely send over a bottle of wine. A string of felicitous adventures and seeming successes follows, while romantic liaisons spring up within the think tank's ranks. Where else but in Cyprus could the Fellows hope to unearth Pygmalion's ancient showgirl sculpture of Aphrodite in time for Kataklysmos, an annual celebration of Noah's flood when Cypriots take to the sea and flirtatiously splash one another? Unknown to all but alert readers is a counterplot to waylay the think tank's best designs.
The Cardiff Giant has up its novelistic sleeve Puck's profound declaration, 'Lord, what fools these mortals be!" Its characters are enmeshed in self-punishing belief systems, such as alien abduction, astrology, kabbalistic numerology, rebirthing, and religious beliefs reduced to literal absurdities. The fast-paced action centers around episodes where they confront the fruits of their own beliefs and pay a sorry price. But in the end these characters, who have stuck together with pluck and affection, come to recognitions at once hilarious and moving.
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 (spring 2022), a satire on self-refashioning, identity, and modern sexual practices, is set in Greenwich Village and Santa Fe. And The Woman in Green (January 5, 2023), 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 spring 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 2025?
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 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 above. Click on the title for more description.
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, published Oct. 4, 2021 is described above. For more description, click on the title.
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 is the final metafarcical novel of The Enigma Quartet and, to my mind, the most far-reaching and unconventional of the four. Its grouchy narrator repeatedly insults his readers of 2050 and wishes he were instead addessing readers of 2025, when somewhat fewer were boneheads. His allusions to the shared culture of 2050 just don't add up, so the novel, unlike 1984, isn't strictly futuristic. Born under a curse at the exact moment of the 9/11 attacks, the narrator looks back on the two remarkable utopian experiments in early nineteenth-century New Harmony, Indiana, one religious, the other secular. He then looks ahead to his grandfather Sam Coverdale's visionary effort in the millennial year, 2000, to create a new "Boatload of Knowledge" on the banks of the Wabash. His cast of characters bears a notable resemblance to Mary Shelley's circle of Frankenstein intimates.
What could go wrong? From a macabre scroll found under a labyrinth to a dramatic fiasco on the world stage to a heady balloon ride to freedom, these characters plus a prescient turtle undergo one trial after another. But they hang on together as friends and lovers, averting suicide within the ranks and emerging with lasting romantic bonds and a vision that the enigmatic Woman in Green will someday prosper on Planet Earth. Along the way, one character provides evidence, hitherto unrecognized, that Shakespeare himself may have died a suicide. The novel will be published January 5, 2023, the seventy-fifth anniversary of the publication of the novel Raintree County, to which it is indirectly an homage.
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