DARCONVILLE'S CAT by Alexander Theroux

DARCONVILLE'S CAT

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KIRKUS REVIEW

Alaric Darconville teaches English to the young Virginia women of Quinsy College. He writes fiction, is considered eligible by the co-eds, and soon enough gives up his rather ingenuous, un-modern heart to one of them: Isabel Rawsthorne, she of the hillbilly-background, angelic face, and elephantine legs. Wild transport ensues; even when Darconville goes briefly to England and then is invited to teach at Harvard, his eyes are set on the wonderful prospect of future life with Isabel. But she, he discovers, has been stepping out on him--with a local sailor named van der Slang--and, up in Cambridge, Darconville nearly dies of grief. Grief then turns into hatred, hatred revenge--all fanned by a Devil's-representative, the eunuchoid and woman-hating Dr. Crucifer, the hermit of Adams House. Yes, this is the ""story"" of Theroux's novel. But if in these 704 pages you can catch more than an occasional glimpse of it, your eyes are better than 20/20--because what's really going on here is a hope chest of euphuism: a bloated celebration of the novel-as-rhetoric. Theroux's first novel, Three Wogs, was made of the same glittery stuff and employed the same tattoo of mostly Latin and Elizabethan vocabulary; yet it satisfied as comedy by dint of its very unlikeliness and blithe bad taste. Here, however, with an elementary boy-meets-girl structure, the linguistic trappings come at you like Godzilla: ""the other wonderful sapsuckers down South that might be classified under ordo squamata: yomp heads, mountain boomers, rackensacks, hoopies, haw-eaters, snags, pot-wallopers, buckras, goober goopers, scataways, pee-willies, wool hats, pukes, raggeds, boondockers, dug downs, tackies, crackers, and no-lobes."" Some of this is funny, true, and there are also remark: able ventriloquisms of early English prose: ""It was with Darconville now as with wastrels, left with thoughts such as sue and send, and send and sue again, but to no purpose, the evil of policy and plot having rained down like a plague upon everything of value he'd once owned."" But this swollen series of rhetorical tropes-a misogynist's library; essays on love, hate, ears; a black page out of Tristram Shandy; nine pages of baroquely imagined tortures--earns little or no justification as it goes on. Gilbert Sorrentino can get away with essentially the same sort of book because of his hilarious juxtapositions of suave device and funky contemporaneity. Theroux, on the other hand, merely stands on top of a hill of learnedness--and rolls this antiquarian lollapalooza down at us, at the foot. So: eccentric, occasionally comic diversion for academicians--but sheer rococo tedium for most other readers.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1981
Publisher: Doubleday