Nixoncarver

Mark Maxwell, Author
Mark Maxwell, Author St. Martin's Press $19.95 (178p) ISBN 978-0-312-18146-8
Reviewed on: 12/29/1997
Release date: 01/01/1998
If a supposed friendship between a disgraced Richard Nixon and the hard-drinking, working-class poet and short-story writer Raymond Carver strikes you as a little too unlikely, Maxwell's funny but rather formless first novel is unlikely to convince you otherwise. Indeed, he hardly seems to try: the scenes in which Nixon, Carver and the novel's narrator swap lockerroom stories and bathroom jokes are pure exercises in whimsy. Yet for all Maxwell's self-effacing flippancy, his portraits of the writer and politician as young men are vividly imagined, often surprisingly poignant. His sense of young Nixon's sexual and familial turmoil--and Carver's grinding poverty as a child and young man--are especially convincing. Neither subject is new, of course; in an author's note, Maxwell writes that he means ""to simultaneously perpetuate and change"" the myths of these men's lives. In his hands, both become myths of American fatherhood, a thinking man's Darth Vader and Obi-Wan. (After one of Nixon's tales of childhood abuse, Carver mutters ""Fathers."" As Maxwell writes, ""that pretty much says it all."") Even while it flirts with silliness, the friendship between tricky Dick and minimalism's trickiest, most laconic impresario has disarming resonance and charm. (Feb.)
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