- Hardcover: 271 pages
- Publisher: Knopf; 1st edition (March 24, 1998)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0375400567
- ISBN-13: 978-0375400568
- Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 1.2 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 14 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #663,466 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Rich Man's Table 1st Edition
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Scott Spencer has not yet written the Great American Novel, but the stunning opening of Endless Love (which puts the Brooke Shields film version to shame) is a fair contender for the Great American First Chapter. A study of obsessive lust, it belongs just one shelf down from Lolita. And Spencer's 1995 Men in Black, about a downtrodden serious novelist who pens a trashy bestseller about space aliens, is by most accounts even funnier than the 1997 sci-fi comedy of the same name.
Now Spencer has written the Great American Novel About Bob Dylan. The Rich Man's Table calls Dylan Luke Fairchild, and it's narrated by his illegitimate son, Billy, obsessed with forcing Fairchild to acknowledge him. Now, the real Dylan's (legitimate) son is the bandleader of the Wallflowers, and his papa is clearly proud that both of them have hit albums (Bringing Down the Horse and Time Out of Mind, with tie-in paperbacks for both Bringing Down the Horse and Time Out of Mind).
Even so, Spencer's Luke Fairchild is a completely plausible, richly detailed portrait of the rock star Dylan might have been in a parallel world. "How did a shapeless Jewish kid from the Midwest become so famous, so beloved, so despised, so lonely, so pious, so drug-addicted, so vicious, so misunderstood, so overanalyzed?" wonders Billy, who proceeds to find out by interviewing everybody Luke ever knew. Young Luke (a "faintly girlish beauty") learns his trade from old blues singers and New York pinko folkies, spurns them for decadent rock, sings about an unjustly accused man who embarrassingly turns out to have been justly accused of murder, and ages badly. ("The mockery was gone ... his drugged-out eyes were no more expressive than olives.") Luke is high and mighty about being down-home and unpretentious, like Dylan who, when he was offered fine wine by the Beatles, demanded cheap wine instead (and guzzled the fine wine while waiting for the cheap to arrive by expensive courier).
So close is Luke to Dylan that much of Spencer's novel constitutes a clever criticism of Dylan's actual pretensions and achievements. Unlike the deranged Romeo who narrates Endless Love, Billy makes the object of his obsessive affections come to life as a character. To verify Luke's similarity to the real singer, check out Bob Dylan's only book, Tarantula.
Some readers will find the roman a clef aspect of The Rich Man's Table irritating, distracting. The book's defenders will have to excuse a plot as reedy as Luke's (and Bob's) singing voice. And Luke's song lyrics, while often good pastiche, are too obviously connected to the events in his life to be fully, incomprehensibly Dylanesque.
Even so, you've got to grant Spencer's emotional perfect pitch, especially when he's describing self-deception and self-loathing. He has a poet's eye and a wicked gift for metaphor. And while he takes his characters seriously, he is a merciless satirist of celebrity culture: One doctor Billy interviews tells him, "Luke didn't have much of a capacity for pain but then added, with an inside dopester's smirk, that he did, however, have a large capacity for painkillers." We will probably never have a real insider's portrait of Bob Dylan. But who needs it? The reality can't match Scott Spencer's imagination. --Tim Appelo
From Publishers Weekly
Spencer (Endless Love; Men in Black) has imagined a quintessential 1960s folk-rock superstar, Luke Fairchild, who seems to be a cross between Bob Dylan and Bruce Springsteen but has a following greater than either, and scrutinizes him both as cultural phenomenon and person. He is seen through the eyes of his seldom-acknowledged son, Billy Rothschild, the offspring of a liaison with beautiful left-wing hippie Esther when both seemed the essence of their breakaway generation in Greenwich Village in the early 1960s. Now it is 30 years later: Billy is a schoolteacher still tormented by the fame and elusiveness of his father; his mother lives in the country among old friends and quietly drinks her life away. Spencer writes perceptively of the burdens of colossal success; his picture of Luke, spoiled and selfish yet with a core of sweet uncertainty that makes him a magnet to millions, is subtle and unnerving. Most impressively, his ear for rock lyrics (he reproduces many of Luke's songs as he goes along) is unerring. Billy is less convincing, and the pretense that he is doing a book on his father is a rather awkward device as an excuse for his narrative. But the joyfully romantic excesses, as well as the pain and waste, of those far-off times are beautifully evoked and sure to bring a nostalgic tear to the eye of any aging hippie.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top customer reviews
But Rich Man's Table was a huge disappointment. I found it long winded, often boring because he goes off into tangents or lists many names of bands that covered the fictional song by the character Luke. I did not find much emotion; this was far below the quality of Endless Love.
I must disclose that I only read the first 100 of almost 300 pages (1/3 of the book) but had to put it down after that.
It's ironic that in the acknowledgements he thanks someone for helping him see that the first draft was very hard to follow. Even now it's hard to follow. Pity, because the premise of the novel had a lot of potential.
I think there is a misguided popular notion that the dynamically enabled and insightfully directed character of genius is virtually clairvoyant, nearly omniscient. The real brilliance of Mr. Spencer's novel is in its revelation of genius as something that quite simply is; that is, a force that is large, impressive, and dynamically persuasive but one that moves and forever alters the world more incidentally than knowingly. As Mr. Spencer writes: I was now one of those people who believed in the sympathetic magic of the well-meaning sentiment. And why not? What else do we have? The clenched fist eventually becomes crossed fingers. (Quality Paperback, p. 191)
Scott Spencer also paints a portrait of celebrity that is wonderfully experiential. The clamoring presence of lost souls and sycophants around Luke Fairchild makes the absurdity of such shameless adoration markedly visible. The oddity of celebrity becomes dramatically apparent and helps inform the richness of the novel.
However, the pleasure of the novel is spoiled as it nears its conclusion. It loses its impressiveness when it turns to the keenly improbable to realize its completion. The last several chapters reek of contrivance ruining the wonderful believability of the chapters preceding them. It's not that events could not have happened as they do, it's that they are highly unlikely. A national icon of far reaching resources would indeed have found a more capable means of handling a medical emergency than the plot affords. What was wonderfully alive becomes fancifully artificial. It is a shame, before its clumsy, concluding chapters, The Rich Man's Table was an accomplished, animated work.