GEORGE MILLS by Stanley Elkin
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George Mills, who lives in St. Louis and makes his living by moving furniture out of the apartments of evicted-black-folks, claims to be "saved." True, there's little in George that obviously seems to justify this state of grace. But saved he says he is. And, to support his claim, there are historical flashbacks here to his ancestors--all the other dirty-worker, shlemazl George Millses of the past, people (like the Jews in history) who have been handed unimaginable misfortune . . . but who have also therefore been granted spiritual and physical survival. Elkin gives us a George Mills in medieval Poland, for instance, lost and looking for a Crusade. ("Kille killee smash balls son bitchee pagan mothers? Killee killee bang chop for Jeezy? Which way Moslem bastards?") And we meet the George Mills who's trapped in an 18th-century Turkish seraglio and must pretend to be a eunuch. But, though very funny about half the time, these Mel-Brooks-style flashbacks (contemporary vernacular in period costume) are the weaker half of this eccentric, loosely assembled, overlong Elkin-thon. Better by far are some of the contemporary sequences. There's the episode in which the modern George Mills takes a side job as an aide to a rich, young, dying woman: they go to Mexico together, to a laetrile clinic--and Elkin manages to make this grand-guignol material into a hilarious circus. There's the detailing of George's job as the evictor of poor blacks--with Elkin's fearless portrayal of despicable people and acts in all their ambiguity. And there's the story of Cornell Messenger, a professor/novelist (and Meals-on-Wheels volunteer) who takes an emotionally fraught trip to Nashville with his clutzy, illiterate son Harve: a skin-prickling vignette of fatherly love and shame. Great set-pieces? Absolutely: Elkin's dark frolics are nothing short of marvelous at their best--full of risk and rich, clotted-cream prose. So, though this 488-page novel is a leaky collection of parts rather than one whole strong book (Elkin is a short-form writer no matter how he's packaged), connoisseurs of comic fiction will consider it required reading: a brilliant set of flags blowing the irrepressible wind of Elkin's fierce, bold comedy.
Pub Date: Oct. 25th, 1982
ISBN: 1564782921
Page count: 548pp
Publisher: Dutton
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 1st, 1982


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