39 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2004
The predilection of humans to involve themselves in cults is a perplexing topic that requires years of study and stacks of dictionary-sized psychology books in order to understand.
...you can just read Masters of Atlantis then move on to your degree. Charles Portis continues to hold me in awe with his deadpan comic genius. His silly plots read humorously on the surface, and move at a good clip, but suddenly one realizes that there is so very, very much more going on.
Where do cults come from and why do (presumably) rational people involve themselves in the nutty things? Portis' take on the topic spells it out in plain humor: an accidental encounter, an impressionable young man, the hangers on, the manipulators, and, gasp, the true believer who spawns a whole philosophy derived from the antics of a con man. Strangely enough, he begins to discern subtle truths about the nature of the universe. When the government gets involved things get sillier yet, but don't just write this off as fiction, we've all seen Congressional hearings; Charles Poris has got their number.
Line your Charles Portis books up next to your Kurt Vonnegut-they make great companions.
26 of 28 people found the following review helpful
Portis sees deeply into the American psyche, and the results are hilarious. Conspiracy theories, weird new religions, rampant materialism disguised as spirituality, extreme personal behavior, self-delusion masquerading as philosphy and history--it's all here. And yet the novel is compassionate, even tender. What a wide open, goofily free nation this is. We here in the USA are uncontrollably eccentric, maybe even just plain nuts: but we wouldn't have it any other way.
24 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on October 23, 2008
The plots and themes are discussed well in the other reviews. So here is a testimonial instead.
In the 1980s, I read this book with great pleasure, and then passed it along to a friend, as I always do. He read it, then correctly passed it along to another friend or library. Thus we shared our books among others, never planning (or even having time) to re-read them. A few months later we discussed this strange and wonderful book, which was full of characters in secret societies and factions thereof, using green ink, issuing membership cards--then stamping them VOID in a fury, conniving for leadership, etc.
Most books are never worth re-reading, even if they are great: there are simply too many other good ones waiting for their turn. This one was clearly different: so we racked our brains trying to remember the title or author, so that we could re-read it.
Years passed and we periodically tried to find this book. In the meantime, we discovered the book "Confederacy of Dunces," the film "O brother, where art thou?" and the song "Shriner's Convention" all of which had similar odd characters, situations, and whimsy. After more than twenty years, my friend finally remembered the character "Squanto the talking blue jay", and of course Google pulled this title right up.
Thus we now possess copies which will be selfishly unshared this time. You'll need to buy your own copy, which you may well then treasure as a jewel of the English language; hopefully it will become one of your top ten lifetime books, as it did for us.
You may even want to re-read it at some point--as I did. Highest praise indeed.
Update 12-2012: If you liked this title, please consider "Mr Penumbra's 24-hour Bookstore" which is an Amazon Pick-of-the-Month choice.
9 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on January 9, 2001
What a total treat and joy to discover this terrific novel. I would put it in the same league as 'Confederacy of Dunces" and that is high cotton indeed. As another reviewer mentioned, the deadpan humor is maintained beautifully from start to finish. I understand why some people might not "get" Portis or find his books to be particularly funny. This genius will not be to everyone's taste. "Masters" is odd and it deals with marginal and strange characters and it's somewhat of an eclectic style of deadpan humor. If you haven't read any Portis, it might be best to start with "Dog of the South." If that doesn't make you laugh, give it up. If it does, read everything the man wrote. It's all great and "Masters" is, I think, the best of all.
16 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on May 2, 2004
I know the term 'best ever' is thrown out there too often and is in most cases downright cliche. But with this book, funniest book ever is an understatement. If you're a fan of deadpan, dry humor with witty dialouge and eccentric characters this book is for you. The first 50 pages are a bit slow in setting up the rest of the story, but from then on I was hanging on every sentence, not wanting it to end.
The character of Austin Popper is one of the most eccentric, off the wall, and laugh out loud characters ever written.
Let me put in the analogy of a movie. If you liked 'Royal Tennenbaums', this book is right up your alley. It has that kind of dry, acidic wit and tongue in cheek humor. If you're more of an 'American Pie' kind of person, you may be left scratching your head and wondering what the hell just happened.
9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on March 25, 2000
Arkansas author Charles Portis has sometimes been compared to Thomas Pynchon. On the surface, the comparison seems bizarre; Pynchon is known for his elaborate literary fantasias, and Portis is best known for the rip-roaring Western _True Grit_. Yet in _Masters of Atlantis_, a tale of secret societies, coded knowledge, and the strangely obsessed men who control access to both, Portis ventures confidently into Pynchonesque postmodernism, and walks away with nothing less than a great American novel.
As you might expect, there's plenty of Portis's deadpan wit, as well as the usual fellowship of outcasts, misfits and odd ducks (most of them belonging to an obscure pseudo-scientific cult called Gnomonism). But beneath this funny business is the desperate quest for a definitive interpretive system, one through which these marginalized characters can finally make sense of the arbitrary, incomprehensible world around them.
You'll have to judge the outcome for yourselves, because for my part, I'm not quite sure. I can say that the final revelation of Gnomonism, with all its ambiguity, is also unexpectedly poignant and satisfying.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on May 30, 2001
This book is an American classic, and many people will enjoy it. But speaking as a 14 year vetern of an occult fraternity, the scariest thing about the book is that it is really a lot like real life in the occult community! Many people who have been involved in Occult lodges and organizations will recognize the characters in this book, and may even see a bit of themselves! Most people don't know it, but this book has been an underground hit in the Occult community, with copies being passed around and even pomas being made and worn!
Buy it for the terrific humor and excellent writing, but if you're a member of an Occult group - buy it to examine yourself and your friends!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on June 3, 2009
I never read Portis before, so had little to compare it with, but this book made me laugh out loud---quite an embarassment on the subway, especially when the spittle hit the PC keyboard of the woman sitting next to me. I had been reading a lot about the seekers after the Lost Atlantis, including the Theosophists, Hollow Earth folks and assorted loonies of the American cult scene. So I was really ready for a good laugh at their expense and Portis more than measured up. The book is 248 pages of sustained hilarity. I didn't find it to be "over the top", as one reviewer mentioned. These characters may be a tad overstated, but you can find them in shopping malls, train stations, airports, state legislatures, TV commercials, talk shows, reality shows...they are all there and Portis has nailed them. I am re-reading the book and am laughing all over again, but then I am a slow learner and read aloud trailing my fingers along the print. Anyhow, I can see Will Ferrell in the role of Popper and perhaps the Coen Bros. as producer/directors in the cine-version.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on March 15, 2011
The beginning of the book was LOL funny and very promising. I immediately thought of the early fiction of T.C. Boyle. But then the book slowed considerably, with the only variation in pace happening when the character Austin Popper runs off to Colorado to seek gold. Way too many pages were given over to the Master Jimmerson character padding around his decaying temple in Indiana with his nose in a book and otherwise not much happening at all. Toward the end of the novel, it gets LOL again when Popper appears in front of some state senators in Texas to answer for the cult. But then the novel peters out again through the end.
Two things would have made this a much better novel. 1) cut back the contemplative stretches where Jimmerson does nothing and add more action or at least remove the the long patches of slowness; 2) incorporate a good deal more of the specific oddball beliefs of the Gnomon society based on the real-life Atlantis cult books such as "Atlantis: the Antediluvian World." There would be no need to include the title of that book, just the zany ideas it asserts.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on September 18, 2002
this book is one of my favorites ever. i just love how portis's accounting is so detached and even-handed, while what and whom he writes about are so absurd and pathetic.
because portis doesn't try to write funny, the reader can absorb the outrageousness situations and dialogs in pure form. and those situations and dialogs are a riot.
while a lot of events happen, these characters never really grow or learn from the disasters they leave in their wake. there's no redemption or closure. although it spans decades, this book truly goes nowhere. if you can't handle that, you won't like masters of atlantis.