‘Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World’ by Donald Antrim – Drawn and Quartered, Not by Horses or Oxen but by Toyotas and Subarus

 

‘Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World’ by Donald Antrim (1993) – 164 pages

In the unnamed Florida community in which Pete Robinson lives, taxes have been reduced so much that the schools can no longer operate, and the city can no longer afford a multiple library system so all the library branches are being consolidated into the one main library. They now have duplicate volumes of items such as encyclopedias, dictionaries, etc. Pete Robinson wants to set up a school at his home to replace the defunded schools so he could use these dictionaries and encyclopedias, but his neighbors instead throw the over-sized volumes to set off the land mines that warrior neighbors have installed in the park. Other neighbors have set up traps and moats in their yards to defend themselves from their warrior neighbors.

From the skies it came, a gargantuan blue tome, one of those Compact Editions of the Oxford English Dictionary, end over end hurtling in projectile descent, pages fluttering and tearing in the wind, a screaming index of printed and bound lexical data, half a language heavy with gravity and gathering velocity. I dove for turf and covered my head as the OED cruised thumping to the earth.”

The former mayor, Jim Kunkel, lobbed a Stinger missile into the town’s Botanical Gardens killing several of the town residents. For that, Jim was drawn and quartered, not by the old way using horses or oxen, but instead with Toyotas and Subarus. Now Pete Robinson stores the various parts of Jim’s body in his freezer with plans to bury the various parts in separate spots around town.

What an unusual novel. This is black comedy with tongue firmly in cheek.

I suppose this black comedy novel could have worked, except for its total lack of any character development. There is very little differentiation among all of Pete Robinson’s neighbors. There’s Bill, Abe, Jerry, Tom, Rita, Ray, Chuck, Jim, Clara, Barbara. They are all pretty much the same, more like ciphers than human beings. There is no real character distinction, and I see that as a real problem for a reader trying to sustain interest in these people’s predicaments. Even the main protagonists, Pete and Meredith Robinson, do not come across as real human beings.

I realize that character development is not the real point of this novel. This is supposed to be a broad satire of town life in the Nineties. However even in a broad satire there needs to be some empathy with its characters. Take ‘Catch-22’. Every crazy character is clearly defined with just a few key words and phrases from author Joseph Heller, and it definitely works. In ‘Elect Mr. Robinson for a Better World’, I developed little interest in these characters, even the main ones.

The reason I read this older novel is that I much enjoyed a collection of short stories, ‘The Emerald Light in the Air’ by Donald Antrim which was published in 2014, and Antrim’s novels were reprinted in anticipation of that story collection.

Now I am of the opinion that the talent of Donald Antrim is better suited for the short story form rather than the novel form.

 

Grade:    C

 

 

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