Posts Tagged ‘Donald Antrim’

‘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

 

 

‘The Emerald Light in the Air’ by Donald Antrim – Folks on the Frightening Comic Edge

‘The Emerald Light in the Air’ by Donald Antrim    stories   (2014) – 158 pages

 

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I knew a man in another city who owned and ran a new car dealership.  The business was quite successful, and he and his family lived a comfortable, well-to-do life.  However each spring in late April or early May, he would become terribly depressed and disconsolate.  Since it happened nearly every year, he could recognize the symptoms and would check himself into a mental facility/rest home for several weeks to deal with the problem.  After the stay he would be fit and ready to take up his position again.

Like this car dealer, the New York men and women in Donald Antrim’s stories are hyper aware of their mental problems.  They will willingly check themselves into mental hospitals as needed.  They take the anti-depressants or anti-psychosis pills as the doctor prescribes.  If anything, they will take more of the medication than recommended.  Unlike the above seemingly serene car dealer, they struggle frantically and humorously to get by in a modern world that is none too kind to them.

“What was the use in telling her how bleak he felt when people found him funny?”

 Contrast this awareness of mental illness with the way things are for most people, especially men, in the United States.  First for the average man, any hint or recognition of mental problems will cost him his standing in the community and/or even his livelihood.  Thus he must keep a tight lid on his mental state.   There is no recognition until the problem occasionally explodes into a monstrous violent act.

All of the stories in ‘The Emerald Light in the Air’ were first published in the New Yorker.  Antrim writes the kind of stories that are edgy, antic, and hilarious at the same time.  They somehow fit neatly into the pages of the New Yorker.

All of the stories sparkle here, and I will not get into the details. except the one story ‘The Actor Prepares’ is about a wild and risqué production of ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ that you won’t forget.

Donald Antrim deals with realistic situations in these stories which usually take place in New York, but his people are usually on the dark comic edge between sanity and insanity.   They rely on their pills and their drinks to keep them happy, but the pills and drinks don’t always work.  Most of the main characters in his stories started life in the South but somehow wound up in New York like Antrim himself.    They do these grandiose acts to show the world and their girlfriends that they are fine only to wind up seeming more foolish and suspect than before.

What sets Donald Antrim apart from many other writers of stories is the peculiarity of his world.  No one else could have written these stories with the same antic yet despairing vision.

 

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