WILSON: A Consideration of the Sources

David Mamet, Author . Overlook $26.95 (331p) ISBN 1-58567-189-4

As the subtitle of this curiosity implies, it is an imitation of a scholarly work—or at least the sort of scholarly work that might be undertaken in the 24th century. But it is closer to the nonsense verse of Edward Lear—if Lear had taken acid and been an avid reader of Penthouse Forum. In heavily footnoted essays, attributed to the Old Wrangler—a writer who, like Homer, may be legendary—a web of allusions is woven about a poem that survived the Crash of the Internet in 2021. Certain facts from the past survived the crash—for instance, that Lincoln wrote the Gettysburg Address on the back of an elephant and that Kennedy committed suicide. Otherwise, the cataclysm nearly wiped out civilization, all paper texts having been uploaded after—or perhaps before (the sequence is disputed)—the burning of the Library in Alexandria, Va. The various poems, jokes, graffiti, children's books, notes jotted on envelopes, bits of pornography and comic books that scholars have dug up are used to explain the exegetical disagreements of various 21st- and 22nd-century scholars of the surviving poem. Some say it might be about the Toll Hound, a legendary beast haunting the Western imagination from time immemorial; or it might be connected to secret messages written in urine and sent by Edith Wilson, President Wilson's wife, to her lover, Chet. Mamet's jeu d'esprit will certainly surprise those who imagine the author of American Buffalo operates only in the backstreets idiom of his plays. Written in an elaborately vacuous style and essentially unclassifiable, this is less a novel than an extended joke—albeit a curiously compelling one. (Oct.)

Forecast:This nonnovel has a shot at cult celebrity—Mamet's name will help sales, as will the outrageously over-the-top cover art.

Reviewed on: 09/24/2001
Release date: 10/01/2001
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