Posts Tagged ‘Percival Everett’

‘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+



‘So Much Blue’ by Percival Everett – More Than the Words


‘So Much Blue’ by Percival Everett    (2017)  – 256 pages

Perhaps the best measure as to how much I actually like a novel is how much I look forward to returning to it when I am not reading it.  If I view returning as a necessary chore, that probably means I don’t like the novel very much.  However if I get a smile on my face just contemplating returning to a book, that probably means I like it a lot.  By this measure, ‘So Much Blue’ is a total winner.

The narrator in ‘So Much Blue’ is a fifty-six year old artist who has been working on a giant painting for several years.  He keeps the painting in a outbuilding next to his house, but he won’t let his family or friends see the painting.

There are three main plot lines in ‘So Much Blue’, and the narration switches around between the three. The first is called ‘House’ which takes place in current time and is about the artist’s family in New England.  He is faced with a quandary that it is not too uncommon for a father to face.   In order to extract a secret out of his teenage daughter, the daughter makes him promise ahead of time that he won’t tell the secret to her mother.  However when he hears the secret, he realizes it is something that her mother really ought to know.  What does he do?

Another plot line is called ‘1979’  and takes place back then.  He and his college friend are off to El Salvador to rescue his friend’s brother who is mixed up with drugs and some “bad hombres”.  This story winds up being the most hilarious of the plot lines when they meet this shady American mercenary who they call the Bummer who bosses them around.

The third plot line is called ‘Paris’ and takes place seven years before the present and is about an affair the forty-something artist has with a 22 year old Parisian young woman named Victoire.  Despite the questionable circumstances of the age difference, this affair is handled tastefully.

This is an odd mix of plots, but each is handled in an ingratiating and good-natured manner.  The entire novel does have a unifying theme of “secrets”, but this theme is handled quite indirectly, and the author does not hit you over the head with it.

Although each of the three disparate plot lines of ‘So Much Blue’ is captivating, warm, and humorous, the sum of the entire novel is still much greater than the individual parts.  The novel as a whole is so well-written and subtle, that all of the reviewers including me seem to fall all over ourselves trying to describe it.


Grade :   A   


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