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In language that is “rich, musical and playful, like that of a Joyce who grew up on Yiddish” (Michiko Kakutani, New York Times), Stanley Elkin offers us the extraordinary Dorothy Bliss, an eighty-two-year-old widow caught in a tragicomic world, forced to find purpose in endless card games and “Good Neighbor Policy Night” at a Florida retirement community.
An ambitious‚ digressive‚ and endlessly entertaining account of the thousand-year history of the George Millses‚ George Mills is the antithesis to the typical Horatio Alger story.
Since the First Crusade‚ there has always been a George Mills‚ who—despite his best efforts—is unable to improve his position in life or that of his descendants. Instead‚ all the George Millses are forced to accept their lot as true blue-collar workers‚ serving important personages in a series of odd jobs ranging from horse talker in a salt mine to working as a furniture mover in contemporary St. Louis. But the latest in the long line of George Millses may also be the last‚ as he obsesses about his family’s history and determines that he will be the one to break this doomed cycle of servitude.
The author of more than a dozen novels and short-story collections, Stanley Elkin is a master of tragicomedy. His rants, jokes, and characters leave readers torn between laughter and tears and nowhere is Elkin’s sense of humor more manic or more depressing than in this collection of three novellas. “Her Sense of Timing” relates a destructive day in the life of a wheelchair-bound professor abandoned by his wife at the worst possible time, leaving him to preside—helplessly—over a party for his students that careens out of control. “Confessions of a Princess Manque” is the story of an unsuspecting commoner catapulted into royalty when she catches the wandering eye of Prince Larry of Wales. And in the title story, a community college professor searches for his scholarly identity in a land of academic giants while staying in Van Gogh’s famous room at Arles and avoiding run-ins with the Club of the Portraits of the Descendants of the People Painted by Vincent Van Gogh.
In The MacGuffin, Elkin narrates with accustomed panache the mysterious events that take place in something under forty hours in the life of Bobby Druff, City Commissioner of Streets, aged fifty-eight, whose ordered world of avenues and roads seems suddenly a rather more complicated maze than he remembers. Events, in fact, conspire against him, and his wife, his son, his new-found lover, even his chauffeur, appear to be in on it. The novel combines a sort of tough-talking, laugh-out-loud humor and that odd, amusing, under-the-breath revenge of the powerless with the twists and killer thrill rides of a plot to rival Hitchcock's.