ACKROYD by Jules Feiffer
Kirkus Star


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You're not funny, you're spooky."" That's what tall Tina says to identity-seeking Robert Hollister, and that's what you may feel like saying to Jules Feiffer after following his restless, obsessed hero through the formative years, 1964-1971. Hollister, whose present-tense journals (""May 14. . . Suicidal"") are the book, begins his quest by becoming private dick Roger Ackroyd--""the detective business is my peace corps."" Clients include Annabelle Plante (stolen parakeet, missing son) and her estranged husband Oscar ""Rags"" Plante, the paranoid novelist-sportswriter who hires ""Ackroyd"" to find out why people don't come to his parties and to recover a stolen notebook containing the ""seeds"" of a brilliant novel. From then on, no matter what Hollister tries--a big agency, an investigating job for the army, Ellsbergesque notoriety as the leaker of classified stuff on Vietnamese corruption--he's mired in the world of ""Rags"" Plante's Manhattan present and high-school past. Who stole that notebook? Was it ""Big O"" Kaufman, the football hero of Rags' youth, or was it one of the backbiting literary types who gather and talk LBJ-Warhol at Elaine's and P. J. Clarke's? And those ""seed"" phrases for the next gear and Peace--""Opposites"" and ""Big Chief Little Shit""--what do they mean? Hollister's Plante fervor (""God, do I find that man interesting!"") leads him to ex-cheerleader Carrie McWhinnie and to ruminations about the connections between Rags' role-playing personality and his own. What Feiffer is playing with is the idea of detection as a metaphor for psychoanalysis; sometimes Hollister seems to be the demanding shrink (""Whatever you're here to talk about, you're not talking about it"") and sometimes he's the bewildered, father-obsessed patient: ""Is everyone in emotional hock to a smarter friend with an overview?"" A promising inkling of a maybe-great novel, but that novel never happens. Feiffer's short-winded, catchy writing can't make rich, real people out of Rags (the poor man's Von Humboldt Fleisher) or Hollister, whose vaguely WASP-y credentials are at odds with the New York Jewish rhythms and the voice that calls Socrates a ""supercilious, game-playing, sadistic little fag."" Yes, there are Feifferish nuggets of humor and insight aplenty, but, no, not quite aplenty enough to entertain us away from considerable puzzlement and spells of ennui.

Pub Date: May 1st, 1977
Publisher: Simon & Schuster