Monday, January 7, 2008

Masters of Atlantis

This is a comic novel about some loopy characters who create a secret society based upon a document obtained from a con man. In a typical passage, a chap named Golescu (his name supposedly means "not many camels") demonstrates his skills:

See, not only is Golescu writing with both hands but he is also looking at you and conversing with you at the same time in a most natural way. Hello, good morning, how are you? Good morning, Captain, how are you today, very fine, thank you.

And here is Golescu still writing and at the same time having his joke on the telephone. Hello, yes, good morning, this is the Naval Observatory but no, I am very sorry, I do not know the time. Nine-thirty, ten, who knows? Good morning, that is a beautiful dog, sir, can I know his name, please?

My only reservation is that the characters are so completely batty that after a while they seem no more real than a Saturday morning cartoon. More moments like the one in which a member of the Gnomon Society is grilled by a Senate Committee, and appears more level-headed than his questioners, could have lifted the book to the level of greatness.

Another snippet:

"Tell me, how is Mr. Bates?"
"He's in a nursing home."
"You're not serious."
"His back was hurting and so they pulled all his teeth."
"Doing fairly well now?"
"His back still hurts. He can't eat anything."
"But coming around nicely? Getting proper care?"
"They don't turn him over often enough."
"He's bedfast?"
"Not exactly."
"Gets up every day and puts on his clothes?"
"Not altogether, no. Not every day."
"Off his feed, you say."
"No, he stays hungry. He just can't chew anything."
"But his color's good?"
"Not real good."
"But otherwise fit? Has all his faculties? Takes an interest in community affairs?"
"Not much, no."

Will I read more Charles Portis? Absolutely.