GANGLAND by David Winn
Kirkus Star


Email this review


A novel, conventionally, is supposed to run like a well-oiled machine. First-novelist Winn seems blithely, cheerily unaware of this: his book instead is a raucous, witty heap of parts--nuts, bolts, cables, transistors--whose chief function is to shake itself further apart. The central player is a Vietnam vet named Dunkle, returned to a southern California college town after a combat career in a unit devoted to experimental electronic devices (that mostly never worked). So now Dunkle (along with vet-pal Froig), is transfixed by TV, by electronic screens of all kinds: they seem to send him special messages; computers tend to read-out shaggy dog jokes to him. Dunkle's real life, however, is very unlike a TV show. He lives communally in a house filled with women meal-students (""lotzls,"" he calls them). The neighborhood also houses the arms-bearing Women's Defense League, the Fastfood Marxists, the Math-Dorm holographers, the Mucus Conspiracy dairy co-op. And, though Winn throws sharp and glancing (basically good-hearted) stones at all these post-modern cultural cartoons, the flashbacked Vietnam scenes are the fresh, surrealistic triumphs here. The characters include the spooky colonel, who was once dean of Poultry Science at Michigan State and now is called ""the green man."" And, above all, there's the field-surgeon who also recites and writes poems for little magazines--a habit which, on one important occasion, is badly misunderstood. ("" 'There are three guys out there/ and they don't look like us./ They're armed and looking toward the camp./ They must be wearing shorts because/ I can see the moonlight on their knees/ and I think they're you-know-who,' Silber recited in a whisper, with a little too much intensity and expression, Dunkle thought."") In Dunkle's daily life and on his TV screens, the colors keep sliding, exaggerating, melting; and darting happily through all the messiness is Winn's distinct comic talent, loose as a goose. Hip, endearing satire--in a funny, shambling book.

Pub Date: May 24th, 1982
Publisher: Knopf