IBID: A Life
Chalk it up to a post-ironic age or a growing impatience with a certain precious experimentalism linked (possibly unfairly but permanently) to the McSweeney's crowd. The bloom is off the rose on certain types of literary exercise, in this case a novel composed entirely of footnotes to a lost biography of the fictitious Jonathan Blashette, a three-legged circus performer and later CEO of Dandy-de-odor-o Inc., a men's deodorant company. Reading Dunn's third novel is rather like being served a dinner consisting entirely of turkey necks: you're starving for the whole bird—in this instance, the biography manuscript, supposedly lost in a soapy bath by Dunn's editor. The footnotes cover a life brimming with historical significance; not only does Blashette serve in WWI, he loses a stepson to WWII and rubs shoulders with, to name a handful, James Joyce, Greta Garbo, Nelson Rockefeller, Rudolph Valentino and Ray Kroc. While Dunn succeeds in affectionately and mischievously portraying history as a live, malleable and ever-developing construct enriched and expanded by its minor players, even the fictitious ones, his sometimes juvenile jokes—e.g. one of his "sources," a collection of letters to a urologist, is subtitled Notes to a Pee Pee Doctor —aren't very funny. And Dunn, like the class clown, can barely keep a straight face even when describing the casualties of war; he also kills off two important characters in freak accidents. The book reads as if Dunn had a brilliant time writing it, but readers may find the going tougher. (Mar.)
Forecast: Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea made quite a big splash, but this latest effort is too tricky to enjoy such wide appeal.
Release date: 03/01/2004