Kluge (Alma Mater, 1993; Eddie and the Cruisers, 1980, etc.) again explores the mythical power of rock-'n'-roll. The...

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BIGGEST ELVIS

Kluge (Alma Mater, 1993; Eddie and the Cruisers, 1980, etc.) again explores the mythical power of rock-'n'-roll. The ""magic"" of pop, this workmanlike novel argues, is all about a special moment in time. In this case, that moment occurs in 1990 in a sleazy town in the Philippines where countless whorehouses and bars service the Americans based at Subic Bay. There, three unlikely fellows join together in an Elvis impersonation act that re-creates the three stages of the King's career: ""from punk to hunk to bulk."" Chester Lane covers the early years, and he's a true innocent himself. When the trio arrives at ""Graceland,"" the bar in Olongapo where they perform, he resists the temptations of the flesh and falls for a Catholic schoolteacher, the sister of the local radical priest, who would like to see all American bases closed. Chester's brother, Albert, the middle Elvis, is jaded and ambitious; he beds every b-girl in sight and hopes to begin a career in cheap Asian action flicks. The late Elvis, or ""Biggest Elvis"" as he's called, is the oddest--an overweight former English professor named Ward Wiggins, who's just been fired from his job on Guam. Wiggins performs with a missionary zeal and self-consciously sees the show as a deconstruction of the King's career, right down to the tragic finale. Fancying their show as an ""incarnation,"" not an ""act,"" he becomes a local folk hero both to servicemen and the peasants, and he taps into a transcendent power in his ritualistic performance, attracting tourists to this grimy backwater. But the show's success, both commercially and inspirationally, threatens many of the powers that be, and the three are sent on a Pacific Rim tour that fails to recapture the wonders of the Graceland show. Biggest Elvis's Christlike persecution has a happy ending, though, if not quite a resurrection. Overall, a likable narrative that manages to transcend its pretentious commentary about rock, religion, and American imperialism.

Pub Date: Aug. 1, 1996

ISBN: 1590202589

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Viking

Review Posted Online: N/A

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 15, 1996