Peter Doyle

John Vernon, Author, Rebecca Saletan, Editor Random House (NY) $22 (417p) ISBN 978-0-394-58249-8
Vernon ( Lindbergh's Son ), a literature professor at SUNY Binghamton, uses his third novel as the occasion for an elaborate send-up of phallocentric culture. The corpse of Napoleon, awaiting autopsy, suffers the indignity of having its right thumb and penis removed by a relic-seeker. The penis makes its way to the New World, where it ends up the property of one Peter Doyle, who happens to be an intimate (yet not intimate enough) friend of Walt Whitman. Amid a leitmotif of cross-dressing and a cast of historical figures (Emily Dickinson, Horace Greeley among them), the penis is hotly pursued by fortune hunters and Napoleon's would-be heirs across New York City to Amherst, Mass., to the Wild West. Vernon's canvas takes in the great robber barons, the flailing idealists and the penny-ante con men that lend the 19th century such color. The author's research is impressive, his pastiches of Whitman and Dickinson are convincing, and his intensely florid prose recalls Patrick Suskind's Perfume --and yet his overdetermined plot makes one suspect that his undertaking has been an exercise in, well, mental masturbation. (May)
Reviewed on: 04/01/1991
Release date: 04/01/1991
Paperback - 978-0-449-90714-6
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