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My Name Is Will: A Novel of Sex, Drugs, and Shakespeare Hardcover – July 8, 2008
"Children of Blood and Bone"
Tomi Adeyemi conjures a stunning world of dark magic and danger in her West African-inspired fantasy debut. Learn more
"Utterly delicious, original, witty, hilarious and brilliant. Shakespeare In Love on magic mushrooms. The Bard has never been this much fun."
-Christopher Buckley, author of Boomsday and Thank You For Smoking
A Tale of two Shakespeares...
Struggling UC Santa Cruz grad student Willie Shakespeare Greenberg is trying to write his thesis about the Bard. Kind of...
Cut off by his father for laziness, and desperate for dough, Willie agrees to deliver a single giant, psychedelic mushroom to a mysterious collector, making himself an unwitting target in Ronald Reagan's War on Drugs.
Meanwhile, would-be playwright (and oppressed Catholic) William Shakespeare is eighteen years old and stuck teaching Latin in the boondocks of
Seemingly separated in time and place, the lives of Willie and William begin to intersect in curious ways, from harrowing encounters with the law (and a few ex-girlfriends) to dubious experiments with mind-altering substances. Their misadventures could be dismissed as youthful folly. But wise or foolish, the bold choices they make will shape not only the 'Shakespeare' each is destined to come... but the very course of history itself.
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Shakespeare's story is interspersed with the story of Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a Master's student working on his thesis on Shakespeare and also discovering who he is. In parallel fashion, adroitly handled, both the historical and contemporary Shakespeares find themselves and get their lives going. I think this is one of the key narrative challenges of the piece -- making these parallel stories complement each other -- but it is adroitly handled and I would not want to give up the contemporary reflection of Shakespeare.
So...fun on many levels. The story of Elizabethan intrigue was very compelling and could have been a book in itself. The self-discovery of the lead characters was very well handled, making it a more personal and three-dimensional story. Winfield, who co-created and acted in the Reduced Shakespeare Company, has a flawless ear for Elizabethan language and punnery without which the book would not have worked; as it is, it does all come out perfectly, which greatly adds to the realism and charm of the work.
I recommend My Name Is Will to anyone who wants a little escapism, a bit of intrigue, a new look at Shakespeare and a lot of romance this summer.
The novel's two main protagonists have their stories told in alternating chapters, and the switching point of view is easy to follow. The chapters that focus on the real Shakespeare start with a short paragraph on the history or context. Chapters with the modern Will start with a quote from one of the real Shakespeare's works. It is a nice touch. The text has a nice progression and pace that culminates in a defining moment for both of its Wills. The main strength of the novel, and the point that I think Mr. Winfield tried so valiantly to make, is that Shakespeare's characters are so human, because he was! It seems an obvious point, but in today's world of Bard idolatry, people forget that Shakespeare was indeed one of us. This point is cleverly presented in a very understated manner by creating the device of the modern Will Shakespeare, and his process of maturation and finding life's purpose. What reader cannot see themselves in that device? Again, the connection of Shakespeare as one of us, who simply put into divine poetry what human experience is like, is made! This parallel plot device further highlights the more interesting tale (in my opinion) of the real Shakespeare's same process. With the parallel so spelled out for the reader, one has to be dense to not see the larger point.
Although quite funny, the novel also has some serious points to make and in Chapter 36 some surprisingly thoughtful ideas are presented about the role of religion and faith in our lives. There is something to chew on in this text.
Winfield also rewards those who are familiar with the Bard and his work by throwing in many allusions, lines, and references from Shakespeare's works and the point again is made that Shakespeare's art was probably a reflection of his life and experiences. Again, as it is for all of us.
Funny, interesting, witty, and thought provoking. Not bad at all! A worthwhile read.