Light House is not a novel for the culturally illiterate. Its sentences loop with gratuitous references and even more gratuitous jokes, all courtesy of former Spy editor William Monahan. Now defunct, Monahan's former employer used to publish the monthly Spy List, a litany of random cultural phenomena, which induced hilarity in the initiated and left everyone else feeling cross. Thankfully, this fictional debut strikes a happier balance: that is, more hilarity, less crossness.
The protagonist, Tim Picasso, is a young artist of genius who stumbles into a life of crime. Excelling in his new career, he ends up stealing a million dollars from Miami kingpin Jesus Castro. Tim flees, finding his way to a Massachusetts bed-and-breakfast called the Admiral Benbow. Innkeepers George and Magdalene are thrilled to have such a handsome (not to mention paying) guest. And with the introduction of this loathsome couple, the author begins to fire with both guns: "Tall, lank-haired, bespectacled, George went shambling off toward the telephone in the lobby, wearing what Magdalene more or less privately thought of as his cuckold's cardigan." (That "more or less privately thought" is a typically snarky and attractive touch.)
The next batch of guests is a group of fiction workshoppers, with whom Monahan makes free. He mocks everyone in the book, but you get the sense that he really hates these literary pretenders. "Joel Josh O'Connor was a writer of moderate technical gift," we are told, "who was capable of imitating everything, no matter how various in style (which does not, week to week, denote uncommon range), that he had read in the last issue of The New Yorker." The Miami contingent appears on the scene soon after, and Monahan has a good (if racially insensitive) time sending up their thuggery. He does stray occasionally into his old, inside-joke territory: "'You shoot this guy, and I never respect you no more,' said Mr. Castro very seriously, in a line written in 1991 and published serially with cult success in 1994 without winning anything the way some people apparently did with it." This kind of thing makes most sensible people very tired. Still, by the time a nor'easter blows the lid off the place, Monahan's delightfully silly novel has earned its absurd, roof-raising conclusion. --Claire Dederer
From Publishers Weekly
Former Spy magazine scribe Monahan's satirical first novel is broad, freewheeling and scattershot. It's also very postmodern in a sometimes annoyingly hip, glib, Gen-X fashion; it's the quintessential antibildungsroman, detailing the nondevelopment of its 22-year-old protagonist, Tim Picasso. (Most characters here have similarly amusing--if unsubtle--monikers.) The book opens with a stale jab at political correctness and affirmative action: a brilliant painter, Tim is told by nitwit art professors that he's not "dispossessed enough" to get an art fellowship, so he turns to crime, stealing more than a million dollars from a sociopathic Cuban drug lord named Jesus Castro. Tim tries to lie low at the Admiral Benbow, a decrepit New England seaside hotel populated by a strange assortment of characters. Among them are pretentious innkeeper George Hawthorne and his stupid, horny wife, Magdalene; haughty but loopy writing-workshop-maven Professor Eggman; violently vindictive New York literary darling Glowery; redneck stereotype Edward Briscoe; and, of course, the murderous Jesus Castro himself, who has checked in under the unlikely nom de guerre of Wassermann. Soon, almost every type of hanky-panky conceivable is going on under the Admiral Benbow's shaky gables. Tim and Magdalene start up a silly affair, Jesus Castro engages in all-night s&m sessions with a dominatrix, and Castro's oily associate Cervantes is cornered and raped by the demented Briscoe. Between all these over-the-top shenanigans, Monahan has time for several pseudo-intellectual riffs (some funny, many simply facile) on everything from Joycean epiphany to Freudian analysis: "He wasn't actually commenting on the discontents of civilization. He was marketing new forms of discontent to the civilized!" Most of Monahan's observations are similarly arch and precious. Unfocused and sometimes smug, this novel may be enjoyed by those who like their satire lite. (June)
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