‘Telephone’ by Percival Everett – Affecting, Outlandish and Entertaining


‘Telephone’ by Percival Everett    (2020) – 216 pages

I was genuinely impressed with the first Percival Everett novel I read, ‘So Much Blue’, and so I read another. ‘Telephone’ is again well-written and emotional with an odd mix of plots.

Zach Wells is a professor and geologist-slash-paleobiologist. He studies the bodies of ancient birds found at or near the Grand Canyon and other places. He and his wife Meg and their daughter Sarah live in Altadena which is near Pasadena and Los Angeles in southern California.

It starts when his chess-proficient daughter Sarah does not see an obviously threatening bishop on the chessboard. After some other incidents, it is determined that she has Batten disease, which is the common name for a broad class of rare, degenerative, inherited disorders of the nervous system. There is no known cure.

Would that my daughter could have clawed her way back or that I could have rescued her, but no such thing was possible.”

Meanwhile the professor must get on with his work. He gets little satisfaction from teaching undergraduates. It is the study of the bones of these ancient birds that really fascinates him. Through one of his female associates, he must deal with campus politics which he really dislikes.

Meanwhile he and his wife and daughter try to adapt to their new situation as best they can.

I had a smart, lightsome partner…I appreciated the fact that I should have loved her completely, but being the unhappy wretch that I am…”

And then there is one further off-the-wall plot. He buys clothes over the internet from this company in New Mexico, and he starts getting these messages on a piece of paper inside the pockets of these clothes saying “Ayuadame” which means “Help Me” in Spanish. Using the pretense that he is going to New Mexico to find some more ancient bird bones, he investigates what is going on there.

All of these disparate elements add up to a dramatic and entertaining read that kept me fully engaged despite some of the plot elements being outlandish and over the top.


Grade:    B+



6 responses to this post.

  1. Sounds entertaining Tony, and a bit bizarre – which is often good! 😀

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Sounds like a good combination…

    Liked by 1 person


    • Hi Lisa,
      As it is in Australia I suppose, some very good writers don’t get the press they deserve. Percival Everett is one of those who are under-appreciated.



      • Which is why blogs are so good… I saw someone write on Twitter the other day that no one reads blogs any more, and I think that’s nonsense. Serious readers who read books that go beyond the ones that get publicity in the mainstream media have nowhere else to go to discover new books, if not blogs.

        Liked by 1 person


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