GILLIGAN'S WAKE

Tom Carson, Author . Picador $25 (352p) ISBN 978-0-312-29123-5

Carson, Esquire magazine's TV critic, is to television what Pauline Kael was to film: a consistently intelligent voice brought to bear on a medium in sore need of astute criticism. Logically enough, his first novel has an audacious TV-based premise: in seven separate stories, characters describe their experiences—as scientist, naval officer, actress, student, beatnik and rich husband and wife—in postwar America. The twist is that there's something oddly familiar about these seven—they're the future characters of Gilligan's Island. Gilligan is a patient committed to a psychiatric hospital (the Cleaver Ward, specifically); the Skipper hangs out with fellow mariners John F. Kennedy and McHale on a Pacific island. Millionaire Thurston Howell turns out to have been an old classmate of Alger Hiss; his wife, Lovey, is a confidante of The Great Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan. Ginger leaves her native Alabama for Hollywood and has a night to remember with Sammy Davis Jr., while wholesome Kansas girl Mary-Ann studies philosophy at the Sorbonne and has a Breathless-type affair with boyfriend Jean-Luc. The Professor, meanwhile, is busy assisting his colleague Robert Oppenheimer. Eventually, all find themselves stranded on the island and realize that "we must be fictional characters of some sort." Along the way, Carson skewers Communist paranoia, the fad for electroshock therapy, the Rat Pack, Richard Nixon and other familiar absurdities—political, literary and pop cultural—of the era. "Nothing odd will do long," Dr. Johnson once said, and this is especially true of parody. Carson's clever gags try readers' patience, and some of the pieces are a bit thin. Still, the pastiche is surprisingly smart and entertaining; it offers some genuinely inspired sketches for those who know their television—and their Cold War history. (Jan.)

Forecasts:This book is mostly for those weaned on 1960s and '70s sitcoms, but Gen-Xers and cultural studies types also will get a kick out of it. Expect lots of review coverage; Carson's book will inspire think pieces in hip higher-brow magazines.

Reviewed on: 11/18/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Paperback - 342 pages - 978-0-312-31114-8
Ebook - 978-0-312-70948-8
Ebook - 352 pages - 978-1-4299-7170-6
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