Leaden parody, hollow satire: Vidal, who seems to have been reading his Gilbert Sorrentino, is here sneering at pop-culture...



Leaden parody, hollow satire: Vidal, who seems to have been reading his Gilbert Sorrentino, is here sneering at pop-culture and the bourgeois values it reinforces (the easiest, most familiar targets imaginable)--in a post-modernist joke-novel, with sendups of everything from romance-fiction to sci-fi movies, that supplies a dozen or two good laughs amid the encroaching tedium. ""Duluth"" is the American every-city--on both Lake Erie and the Mexican border, near the Colorado River too. A spaceship has landed nearby. (The aliens within first metamorphose themselves into Hubert Humphrey, later reveal their true shape: ""Mayor Herridge has not seen Close Encounters of the Third Kind but he has seen enough publicity stills from that seminal film"" to know what he's seeing.) Meanwhile blonde cop Darlene roams the streets, strip-searching Hispanic and black men for kicks; while the Hispanics plot rape revenge, she is impregnated--and falls for--one of her victims. (Vidal's preoccupation with closeups of male genitals seems to go beyond the genre he's parodying here.) Meanwhile, too, local authoress Chloris Craig is writing--or having ghost-written--her latest pop-bio: the story of Betty Grable's affair with J. Edgar Hoover (and her murder by Clyde Tolson). Furthermore: the Mayor is plotting against the police chief with Ludlum-esque convolutions; Roland Barthes is revealed to have been a French CIA mole; there are glimpses of predictably crass doings at the local TV station, the local Hollywood studio, the local disco', the Hispanics take hostages atop a high building; etc. And, while all these pop-media/genre formulas are alternating (complete with non sequiturs, clichÉd prose, malapropisms, pornography, bad grammar), there are chapters of a very popular new romance by Rosemary Klein Kantor--with characters who slide, à la Sorrentino and others, in and out of the pages of Duluth. Funny? Occasionally. The point? Only the most obvious one--and smug culture-watchers will certainly find some self-congratulatory pleasure here. But this sort of in-crowd parody is better done in those New Yorker one-or-two-page humor pieces. In Vidal's extended version, the gag wears thin very fast--especially since the sendups are frequently a little off the mark.

Pub Date: May 23, 1983


Page Count: -

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 1983