Weekly Wire
Memphis Flyer How Bizarre

By Leonard Gill

JULY 13, 1998: 

Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist
By Laurie Foos
Harcourt Brace, 171 pp., $11 (paper)

An 18-year-old girl named Frances Fisk is under attack by walruses in mind, under roof, and on the highways of Florida. Her 400-pound father, holed up in the basement and outfitted only in a pair of ragged jockey shorts, is made world-famous in the art world by a series of sculptures known as “Men with Chainsaws.” And her mother, a slave to hairspray, is saved by bowling (and a second husband nicknamed the Kingpin) when that walrus of a first husband, stinking to high heaven, dies of dehydration within reach of a bathtub. Could this, according to novelist Fay Weldon in a blurb adorning Laurie Foos’ Portrait of the Walrus by a Young Artist (new in paperback), constitute “a new genre, North American Magic Realism or Enchanted Anguish? Fiction is not going to be quite the same ever again – post Foos.”

Weldon may be right about the genre, but that business about fiction never being the same again is a tall order – too tall for a simple story top-heavy with absurdities and symbolism and trading in, by satirizing, the by-now age-old formula equating artistic genius and severe personality disorder. That Frances, the worst of the lot when it comes to all-out madness, should end in triumph – a poet writing terrible poetry – is as unconvincing as it is unmoving, the claim for satire be damned. Anguished? Absolutely. Enchanting? Absolutely not.

Generation Queer
By Bob Paris
Warner Books, 197 pp., $23

Bob Paris is a former Mr. Universe, a gay activist, the author of six books (including the recent Gorilla Suit: My Adventures in Bodybuilding), and, in case you’re not a member of the international crowd seeking motivation, a motivational speaker of “international renown.” He is also, to my knowledge, with Generation Queer the first author to open a book with an inspiring quote from Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy. The Onassis part is for some reason missing, and so is the good judgment of the good people at Warner Books who thought this self-obsessed self-help book a worthwhile investment.

Paris here is off his body and onto some spiritual path to self-acceptance, confident – despite what he says is a lack of self-confidence – that readers will wish to be dragged along, down with him. And it doesn’t hurt that he’s rich enough for that path to be on a beautiful, secluded island in the company of something he addresses as the “Infinite Spirit.” What you’ll need is infinite patience for fuzzy meditations on “the quest for hope, love, and justice” requiring a measly two hours of your time, a hefty $23, and a willingness to be warmed by “a welcoming universe,” courtesy of Mr. Universe himself. Creepy.

Satanic Chapters
By Dakin Williams, with James O’Connor Sargent
EEI Publishing, 197 pp., $25

I know Dakin Williams to be a gracious host with any number of stories under his belt to go with the memory of his brother Tennessee and his own travels representing and interpreting his brother’s life and work. On Williams’ career in the service going back to World War II and a career in law in Illinois, I knew less. But nothing, repeat nothing, prepared me for the goings-on in Satanic Chapters, which, if it doesn’t convince you of the Devil among us or the devil in us, may convince you never to set foot in the state of Illinois.

Williams’ first Devil sighting, literally, he says occurred in India in the Forties, backed by eye-opening and -popping displays of immorality and ruin both within and outside the ranks. Peacetime and stateside, though, and things go from raunch to worse to just plain gross when the author gets awfully intimate with (why?) and successfully defends in court (how?) a string of creatures one would have thought the property of William S. Burroughs. You can choose to believe or not believe what’s contained here. Either position will require a cast-iron stomach.

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