The author of Car Camping (not reviewed) on his schizophrenic visit to the world of bullfighting.
It’s Sundeen who spent the morning “emptying tubs of human poo” in a Utah national park before his agent calls to ask if he can tackle a book on bullfighting in Mexico. Mark may have his doubts about his qualifications for this gig, but his alter ego, Travis LaFrance—the name under which Sundeen published “a slim paperback about hunting for desert rodents with highly trained falcons”—has none. Travis “would never look back at his travels and wonder who gives a shit about what some middle-class American has to say about the world,” notes his creator/doppelgänger. Mark may balk as a torero “rams the little knife straight into the bull’s brain, probing in tight circles like he’s scraping the meat from a coconut,” but when Travis writes it all down, he finds bravery draped with finesse: “How brave the man. How noble the beast, how profound the ritual!” Women shimmer like moths about Travis’s flame; those who encounter Mark are less inclined to swoon: “My car’s full,” said the girl. “You can meet us there if you want.” Never does Mark measure up to Travis, and so determinedly does he deploy humor as his foil that we can virtually see the chords of his neck muscles as he strains to eternalize the pitch of low irony. True to form, Mark loses the girl in the end, though not before entertaining forays into cockfights, flamenco dancing, and reminiscences about his earlier attempt to join the Prague Renaissance. (He boarded the wrong train and wound up in Budapest.) Along the way, Sundeen also gets in some good jabs at journalists who become instant experts. “How do you know so much about bullfighting anyway?” asks an acquaintance. “I’ve read quite a few books,” Mark replies.
Well-turned ambiguities, delivered with the steady patter of a late-night TV host’s extended comic monologue.