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MRS. HOLlINGSWORTH’S MEN by Padgett Powell


by Padgett Powell

Pub Date: Nov. 2nd, 2000
ISBN: 0-618-07168-7
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Powell (Aliens of Affection, 1998, etc.) holds to his reputation for pyrotechnics with this ambitiously hallucinatory look at a Civil War hero and then some—a look taken by a plain but thoughtful housewife, who does it all with a shopping list.

At 50, Mrs. Hollingsworth is unhappy indeed with the tedious conformity, emptiness, and banality of her world—including, in it, her own late-teenaged daughters, Volvo cars and all who drive them, and the “smug liberalism and film-as-Art throat clearing of National Public Radio”—and so she does something about it: she starts a list, putatively a grocery list (she hides it from her snooping daughters, in a kitchen drawer) but in actuality the wildly associative, sassy, hyperbolic people and tales that, all interwoven, become the novel one is reading. Things begin, more or less (after a mule runs through town, on fire), with the manifestation of the legendary Civil War General, Nathan Bedford Forrest, who rants and races, appears and disappears, swashes and buckles, grows enormous and then small again—all while one Lonnie Sipple lies on a bed in an otherwise empty hotel room; is visited by a lover so gorgeous she’s called Helen of Troy; loses her because of his unresponsiveness (he has both a mother and a father complex); and is chosen as the representative New Southerner by two perfect clowns (Rape and Hod), who are in the employ of a communications tycoon named Roopit Mogul and are armed with the mega-zap-gun-cum-video camera he’s given them, which is the hyperbole- and hallucination-producing instrument that makes all that happens happen—and that, in time, is revealed as nothing more than the imagination of Mrs. Hollingsworth herself, who succeeds quite well, thank you, in making things come out just about the way she might have wished.

More of Powell’s Coover-esque, hyperkinetic art, action, color, voices, and opinions, all rolled together often brilliantly into something called—well, a novel.