cover image Love and the Incredibly Old Man

Love and the Incredibly Old Man

Lee Siegel, . . Univ. of Chicago, $22.50 (227pp) ISBN 978-0-226-75705-6

Mix a history of Spanish conquistadors in the New World with a porny pulp tale, and the result is this entertaining novel. The premise: Juan Ponce de Leon, the venerable 16th-century Spanish conquistador, is alive and living in Florida thanks to the Fountain of Youth (which he discovered). But with the fountain running dry, the explorer is anxious to chronicle his 540 years on Earth before shuffling off this mortal coil, and summons ghostwriter Lee Siegel to record the lurid details of his countless love affairs. The irascible explorer—between coining imaginative words such as cardarring (meaning, among other things, to have sex)—lays out a reasonably reliable (lurid embellishments notwithstanding) rendering of Ponce de Leon's travels. In addition to his other vices, Ponce de Leon (who claims to have invented cigars, rum and popcorn) leans heavily on cocaine-infused rum punch and morphine as he and Siegel race to beat the explorer's quickly approaching death. While this novel offers a decidedly goofy point of view, surprisingly, it works. Siegel slips in the history lessons so deftly that readers will barely realize they are being educated as well as titillated. (Apr.)