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Gilligan's Wake: A Novel Hardcover – January 4, 2003

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Editorial Reviews Review

In Gilligan's Wake, Esquire columnist Tom Carson takes a shaky premise---20th-century American culture as seen through the characters of Gilligan's Island--and turns it into a feverishly imaginative jigsaw puzzle of a book. Each castaway has been given a bizarre, interconnected history, which they recount in the book's seven chapters.

This fateful trip begins with Gilligan, who tells of his days writing beat poetry with Lawrence Ferlinghetti, only to awaken in a Minnesota mental institution. The Skipper relates how he spent World War II drinking cheap beer on PT boats with McHale and Jack Kennedy, who had "a grin like autumn leaves with a pack of Chiclets in the middle." In later stories, "beaming, imbecilic" Thurston recommends former chum Alger Hiss for his first government job, while spoiled Lovey has a morphine-inspired fling with The Great Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan. Brilliant bombshell Ginger ("My hips could have started the Timex folks weeping") lands a B-movie career in L.A., and a memorable night at Frank Sinatra's house. In between building the A-bomb, inventing the CIA, and generally dictating world events with his pals Roy Cohn and "Hank" Kissinger, the Professor bestows sexual favors on invalids. Finally, cheerful Mary-Ann, "the personification of America," leaves her Kansas home to attend the Sorbonne, where she meets a handsome Frenchman and discovers she is unable to lose her virginity.

Along the way, Gilligan's Wake's elusive meta-narrator reveals himself through clues and exposition in his hallucinatory retelling of American history. Carson propels the novel with astute cultural criticisms and energetic prose, including rapid-fire wordplay and narrative echoes that recall Thomas Pynchon. The result is a multifaceted, uncertain, and dazzling voyage. --Ross Doll

From Publishers Weekly

Carson, Esquire magazine's TV critic, is to television what Pauline Kael was to film: a consistently intelligent voice brought to bear on a medium in sore need of astute criticism. Logically enough, his first novel has an audacious TV-based premise: in seven separate stories, characters describe their experiences-as scientist, naval officer, actress, student, beatnik and rich husband and wife-in postwar America. The twist is that there's something oddly familiar about these seven-they're the future characters of Gilligan's Island. Gilligan is a patient committed to a psychiatric hospital (the Cleaver Ward, specifically); the Skipper hangs out with fellow mariners John F. Kennedy and McHale on a Pacific island. Millionaire Thurston Howell turns out to have been an old classmate of Alger Hiss; his wife, Lovey, is a confidante of The Great Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan. Ginger leaves her native Alabama for Hollywood and has a night to remember with Sammy Davis Jr., while wholesome Kansas girl Mary-Ann studies philosophy at the Sorbonne and has a Breathless-type affair with boyfriend Jean-Luc. The Professor, meanwhile, is busy assisting his colleague Robert Oppenheimer. Eventually, all find themselves stranded on the island and realize that "we must be fictional characters of some sort." Along the way, Carson skewers Communist paranoia, the fad for electroshock therapy, the Rat Pack, Richard Nixon and other familiar absurdities-political, literary and pop cultural-of the era. "Nothing odd will do long," Dr. Johnson once said, and this is especially true of parody. Carson's clever gags try readers' patience, and some of the pieces are a bit thin. Still, the pastiche is surprisingly smart and entertaining; it offers some genuinely inspired sketches for those who know their television-and their Cold War history.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: Recent Picador Highlights
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Picador; 1st edition (January 4, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 031229123X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312291235
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.2 x 9.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (27 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,309,804 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Tom Carson is the author of Gilligan's Wake, a New York Times Notable Book of The Year for 2003. Currently GQ's "The Critic," he won two National Magazine Awards for criticism as Esquire magazine's "Screen" columnist and has been nominated two more times since. He also won the CRMA criticism award for his book reviews in Los Angeles magazine.

Before that, he wrote extensively about pop culture and politics for the LA Weekly and the Village Voice, including an obituary for Richard Nixon in the latter that the late Norman Mailer termed "brilliant." He has contributed over the years to publications ranging from Rolling Stone to the Atlantic Monthly. His fiction and poetry have appeared in Black Clock. His verse and other random writings can be found at

In 1979, he was the youngest contributor -- with an essay on the Ramones -- to Greil Marcus's celebrated rock anthology, Stranded. With Kit Rachlis and Jeff Salamon, he edited Don't Stop 'Til You Get Enough: Essays In Honor of Robert Christgau in 2002.

Born in Germany in 1956, he grew up largely abroad at the hands of the U.S. State Department. He graduated in 1977 from Princeton University, where he won the Samuel Shellabarger award for creative writing. A former resident of Washington, D.C., New York City, and Los Angeles, he now lives in New Orleans with his wife, Arion Berger, and can be found all too often at Buffa's Lounge on Saints' days.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

26 of 28 people found the following review helpful By R. Mumma on January 31, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I just finished this guilty pleasure on the train to work this morning. I read and enjoy a lot of books, but I never feel the need to comment immediately to the Amazonian public about them. This is one that I'd hate to see slip quietly below the radar in the flood of new novels.
It's not just a pop culture pastiche I've seen it described as; it's a very heartfelt picture of the world that those of us who grew up in the second half of the American century. If you've ever read "Ulysses" wishing that you had more firsthand experience with the streets of 1903 Dublin, or tried to read "Finnegans Wake" wishing that you had a better working knowledge of Norwegian puns, this is the book for you (assuming of course, you owned a TV, were aware of current events and maybe read some T.S. Eliot and had a few years of French).
Here's proof once again that St. James of Dublin (Trieste, Paris and Zurich) was not a dead end for literature, but a new beginning.
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13 of 13 people found the following review helpful By bill farrell on February 13, 2004
Format: Paperback
Six years before she stepped onto the SS Minnow for that three-hour tour, Mary-Ann in Paris struggled to explain America in the 20th Century to her paramour Jean-Luc Goddard, the father of French cinema verite. "There's something so sweet about it, so nice you wouldn't believe it - no matter how many dumb mistakes we ever made, maybe because the sweetness makes it so easy to forget them. And I guess we always thought the sweetness would make up for the mistakes as far as all the rest of you were concerned too."
In his novel Gilligan's Wake, Tom Carson uses his skill as a writer on pop culture and politics (for the Village Voice and LA Weekly) to capture the American Century. He gives each of the seven castaways a chapter to express a nation's history and meaning in their own voice and their own lives. Each tells how the weather started getting rough long before the fateful trip.
The tale of our castaways begins, as the old chantey goes, with the first mate. Gilligan is committed to the Cleaver Ward of the Mayo psychiatric hospital, insisting that he is Maynard G. Krebs, Dobie Gillis' beatnik friend. In his lunatic ranting, he tells Dr. Kildare F. Troop, Nurse Julia, and his roommate Holden Caulfield about living in San Francisco and hobnobbing with Ferlinghetti, Ginsberg, and Jasper Johns.
The Skipper recollects his wartime antics off the South Pacific islands of Tallulabonka and Fondawonda with fellow PT-boat skippers McHale and Kennedy, all the while resented by the supply officer and shore rat "Nick." "Nick," by the way, becomes the unpleasant junior Congressman from California who "nailed Alger Hiss," the Groton classmate of Thurston Howell.
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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 25, 2003
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. Tom Carson doesn't merely joke about pop culture, he creates one of the most dazzling examples of it. This book is both high literature and low culture, ambitious and funny (if a little over the top), and his command of the stuff of The American Century (trash TV, cultish European movies, literary figures, Hollywood and Washington, DC) is so masterful that he often makes you look at the objects that comprise it in a whole new way. this is the book every American studies student wishes he in his or her head. It's a whirlwind of brilliantly evoked voices (Lovey Howell's chapter in particular) and references, but they all come together in a way that is resonant, powerful and, in the end, very moving.
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15 of 18 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 6, 2003
Format: Hardcover
Well, maybe not everyone. This amazing, roller-coaster ride of a read will not appeal to the conventional. The plot turns on a coming to grips with American culture by an outsider who longs to fit in. Carson's story is accessed through the characters of Gilligan's Island, providing a romp through the 20th century that is both touching and hilarious. Written with delicious Joycean wordplay the book takes us into the future lives of those on deck of The Minnow. The harrowing, raunchy, obscure and plain glass clear portrayals take the reader to the warp and woof of perhaps his/her own unexamined life.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on May 17, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Midway through the first chapter I congratulated myself on a marvelous find: Carson's loony bin was as funny as his wordplay was riotous. But alas, the second chapter employed a different narrator and a much less exuberant, less zany style, the third even less so, and so on. By final count only one other chapter ("Professor X") had equalled the first. Bear in mind that parody and satire--not to mention humor itself--are very difficult genres to sustain in prose; one marvels and savors when it is done well. ... I consider my money well-spent, even for two hilarious chapters out of seven. In today's publishing climate, one takes what one can get.
By the way, more literary types may enjoy Carson's play on "The Great Gatsby" (Chapter IV) and other, subtler forms of parody here, which I found prolonged and tedious, and many readers have obviously eaten the whole book with relish. I say good for them. If you like political and social satire, are a fan of Vonnegut or Joseph Heller, you'll probably finish the book and enjoy all of it. If you want and expect to be dazzled by a book that compares itself implicitly to Joyce while manifesting a humor as dense as a Woody Allen in top form, two chapters may alone be worth the fare.
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