A happy-go-lucky polygamist weds his way through post-war American history in this bawdy picaresque.
Setting out from the Idaho orphanage where he was raised (and sexually tutored), 16-year-old Shiver Me Timbers (other porn-ish aliases include Casper Wyoming and John Doe) confronts the 1960s with nothing but callow good looks and a ready-for-anything attitude. The sex-starved women of America are waiting for him, and the result over the ensuing decades is 12 marriages and countless extramarital couplings with everyone from an evangelical Nixon-supporter to a Betsy Ross impersonator. Shiver marries for love, money or the hell of it, and moves on because of boredom or gunfire. (He’s a Catholic, so, of course, he never gets divorced.) His wives run the gamut—there’s the flower child who joins the Symbionese Liberation Army, the pre-op transsexual in deep with the mob, the three simultaneous wives whom he picks up as a traveling vacuum-cleaner salesman and juggles until they become deranged from sniffing hog pheromones and, yes, the 14-toed lesbian heiress who tries to kill him on their wedding night. Von Osten regales readers with gonzo misadventures—captured by naked druids, Shivers narrowly avoids becoming a virgin sacrifice by demonstrating that he is not a virgin—in prose that fairly chortles with coy salaciousness. (“‘Does it hurt?’ Dolores cooed, observing my youthful vigor while moving her hands from tending her own rose garden.”) But Shivers’ relationships are so sketchy that the narrative often wanders away—to digressions on everything from the Bermuda triangle, to Ernest Hemingway’s Paris days, to local travelogue (“Philadelphia hosted both the First Continental Congress and the Second Continental Congress”), to anti-imperialist soap-boxing against every foreign-policy misdeed from the annexation of Hawaii to Operation Desert Storm. Von Osten has a time-honored satirical mission—to deflate America’s pretenses by revealing a panorama of lust and greed—but Shivers is too feckless a character to carry that weight.
A rollicking satire.