By Tom Carson
I sometimes find myself in conversations with folks, whose depth of knowledge in an area so far outshines mine that even if I recall 1% of what said person talked about, I'm 300% more informed on the subject.
And while this is still a fiction novel, Gilligan's Wake is chock full of historic and media allusions and I'm quite certain that some of them went over my head (Certainly never having watched a single episode of and being completely ignorant of Gilligan's Island didn't help).
The novel gives a fictional (and sometimes wacky) background to each of the characters from Gilligan's Island, where each chapter is narrated by the character. Each character are intimately linked with people who had a large influence on American history and as a result the novel ends up giving a personal narrative to some significant American historical events:
* Skipper - doing navy duty with JFK
* The Millionaire - friends with Alger Hiss
* Eunice? - daughter of a suffragette
* Ginger, The Movie Star - Arranged to meet with Frank Sinatra, JFK and Sammy Davis Jr.
* Professor - involved with the Manhattan project and various conspiratorial political events
* Mary Ann - travels to Paris, where she dates a movie reviewer "Jean Luc"
Carons does a great job, setting a unique tone for each character/chapter. He also has sly minor interactions between the characters (ex. Skipper doing navy duty with JFK and JFK showing up later with Ginger) and is slightly obtuse about his historical allusions:
...An utterly unheralded tribune, he promptly started juding my life if not summer. When he wasn't doing that, he wrote about movies, although he hoped to make them himself someday.Carson does get a bit serpentine with his words. I found that I frequently had to re-read sentences more than one time.
His name was Jean-Luc something. It's sad, but all these years later, I can't even remember the first initial of his surname.
True, he did go through a mildly rebellious phase, during which he lurked about in blue jeans, white T-shirt and red windbreaker to an oddly John Philip Sousa-esque effect - while swigging milk directly from the bottle, an animalistic sight no doubt deliberately calculated to arouse more true horror in aging parental bosoms than would stealing strangers' cars or knifing unknown West Side Puerto Ricans.But in the end, I really liked the playful narratives to American history and culture that he provided. I was struck by one particular line in the book, which was a kind of meta-reference to what Carson was doing.
...the true story of history isn't what occurs, which is often perfectly haphazard, but how and by whom its events are turned to advantage.