Hawking Up Hairballs

Monday, January 05, 2009

By George

I ragged on the NPR book reviewers for their recommendation of Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist. Now I'm going to have to give them their props. In the article on books that flew under the radar, they also recommended By George by Wesley Stace. Talk about a damned fine novel. This is it. I won't attempt a synopsis. Instead I quote from the publisher.

"In the illustrious history of the theatrical Fishers, there are two Georges. One is a peculiar but endearing 11-year-old, raised in the seedy world of `70s boarding houses and backstages, now packed off to school for the first time; the other, a garrulous ventriloquist's dummy who belonged to George's grandfather, a favorite traveling act of the British troops in World War II. The two Georges know nothing of each other — until events conspire to unite them in a search to uncover the family's deepest secrets."

"While the dummy lays dusty, silent, and abandoned, his young namesake sets out to learn about his dead grandfather's past as a world-famous ventriloquist, his magical powers, and their family's curious history. Weaving the boy's tale and the puppet's 'memoirs,' by George unveils the fascinating Fisher family — its weak men, its dominant women, its disgruntled boys, and its shocking and dramatic secrets. At once bitingly funny and exquisitely tender, Stace's novel is the unforgettable journey of two young boys separated by years but driven by the same desires: to find a voice, and to be loved."

One might think that a novel, a significant portion of which is told by a ventriloquist's dummy wouldn't work, but Stace pulls it off. The book is clever, funny, and very well structured. It was a joy to read. I don't know what more to say than that, except that I don't know why the novel wasn't more well received by the literary folks. Perhaps it's due to the fact that Stace also has a career as a folk singer under the stage name of John Wesley Harding. And the answer is yes, he did get that name from the Bob Dylan album.


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