Sunday, September 9, 2007

Gold Beats the Devil

I'm reviewing my pleasure-reading for the last few months (all documented extensively here on Thinkulous; just use the search field above if you want to read more on any of these books) and there is an undeniable theme emerging:

1) Moby-Dick, by Herman Melville: A rollicking story of a man's life-defining adventure, written in highly stylish prose, with historical and philosophical underpinnings.

2) Yiddish Policemen's Union, by Michael Chabon: A rollicking story of a man's life-defining adventure, written in highly stylish prose, with historical and philosophical underpinnings.

3) The Egyptologist, by Arthur Phillips: A rollicking story of two men's life-defining adventures, written in highly stylish prose, with historical and philosophical underpinnings.

Ah, but then there's my latest read, picked up this week while on a brief vacation on Cape Cod: Carter Beats the Devil, by Glen David Gold. It's an entirely different deal -- a truly rollicking... story... of a man.... hmm.

Charles Carter is an Edwardian-era prestidigitator, a card-and-coin man rising through the ranks of the vaudeville and chautauqua circuits. He spends his days in malodorous, musty train cars, dreaming of being a big-time illusionist like Mysterioso, who has an opulent train of his own and a secure spot at the top of the bill every night. Even before this endearing biographical adventure gets underway, Gold foreshadows the greatness in the offing, by way of an "Overture" in which Carter performs in a fantastically ornate theater in San Francisco, and receives President Warren G. Harding as a distinguished guest. I won't spoil anything here.

So far, it's a lovely vacation read. I commend Gold for not attempting overly flashy language; as I've pointed out here in posts on The Egyptologist, that seems to be the most common trap of the middlebrow novelist (a title I apply endearingly, by the way). Gold's prose is quite readable, and, at times, even flows admirably in its unpretentious portrayal of a very pretentious time and profession.

I'm only a fifth of the way in. So far, there's been a wonderfully brisk and engaging exposition, followed by some regrettable pages in which the language and plotting loses some of that crystal clarity. Am I one of the few people who have little patience for sweeping novels that bog down in day-to-day soap operas? There are so many of them. Even my main man Chabon is guilty at times (though rarely).

But I suspect I'm in for the long haul with Gold; I'm having fun. I'll keep you posted.


Muffy St. Bernard said...

Ugh, yes, the day-to-day soap operas! When explored in an interesting way, sure, that's fine...but when presented like something out of an episode of "Days of Our Lives," no thanks.

I guess the soap opera stuff is inserted as padding, or as supposedly "character defining." I mean, let's face it, most of us ARE defined by our day-to-day soap operas. But just because *I* have petty fights with loved ones doesn't mean I want to read about OTHER people doing so, especially not in a book that is supposedly "rollicking."

I'm re-watching the second season of "Twin Peaks," and it's the soap opera interludes -- James & Donna -- that bring the series down.

And hey, good to see you back! We seem to have lost Eric.

Thinkulous said...


Glad to see someone else thinks as I do about the boggy details in sweeping novels (or TV). I'm going to post a comment to Eric to see if he's OK. Cabrero's comment on one of my recent posts was what nudged me back into posting again... I've been swamped. Thanks for the welcome back.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

"Eric Little" died on August 18th, two days after his last blog entry. I thought he was just busy with the new term.

The article I found doesn't have any further details, except that he was 57 and his birthday was coming up.

Very sad.

Thinkulous said...


I felt a blow when I first read your note about Eric dying. I stopped and had a moment of silence for him. Though I only knew him through cyberspace, his blog had a strong and appealing flavor, and he was always thoughtful and intelligent in his communications. Wherever he is now, I wish him only goodness.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

I've never grieved so much for somebody, I don't know why. I certainly never gave him the impression that if he died I would be crippled. I don't want to sound over-dramatic but I miss him terribly, terribly, terribly.

Today is better. I'm glad that I can share a bit of grief with you, since I don't know anybody else who felt an attachment to him; his online life was very different from his professional life, I'm sure.

Eric was an inspiration to me, and I didn't appreciate him when I could have told him that. I hope that I'm a better person now than I was, and I hope that Eric can somehow know this.

Lessons learned, and more to be learned, and eventually I'll be able to accept all these things.

Thinkulous said...

It was odd for me; I felt that he was a good person even though only acquainted through two-dimensional cyberspace. I liked Eric and will miss him.

Could you post the link to his obit you mentioned? Thanks.

Muffy St. Bernard said...

The links are long and circuitous; the best way to find his obituary is to google search "Eddy Funeral Home." On the right-hand side you'll see a "Recent Obituaries" section. Click on "William Laskowski."

Thinkulous said...

Muffy, thanks for the link suggestion. It worked. It was very nice to read the lovely things about Eric.