In Gilligan's Wake
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.