THE GREAT FAKE BOOK by Vance Bourjaily


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A dense plot and all kinds of narrative gimmicks speed up a novel that really has no place to go. With dizzing shifts in time, place, and even typeface, Bourjaily contrives an elaborate diversion from an otherwise simple story of a young man's search for the truth about his dead father. Whenever Charlie Mizzourin, a 30-year-old Congressional aide, mentions his father Mike, his mother clams up, veiling the dead man's life in what eventually proves to be more mystery than it deserves. At the beginning of this partially epistolary fiction, Charlie writes to John MacRae Johnson, a retired newsman who once served as Mike's editor. The enigmatic reply only whets the appetitie, for it soon becomes clear that Mike was something of a wag, a jazz-crazy hipster who took up journalism to please Charlie's socially prominent mother. Johnson, a pompous, right-wing kook with an un-journalistic penchant for Latinate verbiage, reveals all this slowly, teasing Charlie with select pages from a manuscript of Mike's in his possession. This witty and irreverent memoir, which the crotchety Johnson thinks scandalous, serves as a kind of novel within the novel and chronicles Mike's life from the moment he leaves the service and takes up with some strange Southerners to his final days in Manhattan when two of those same denizens of the demimonde figure in his violent death. The frame story, told through memos, letters, indexes, rÉsumÉs--you name it--also relies on a grab bag of mysterious characters and odd events. It's a rather tawdry mix of sex and politics (involving hookers, lobbyists, and dirty tricksters among others) that wanders from D.C. to the Middle East, but never quite finds its way home. The title refers to one of those ""cheat"" books used by lounge musicians to bluff their way through pop tunes, but it could just as well describe this somewhat phony intrigue.

Pub Date: Jan. 8th, 1986
Publisher: Weidenfeld & Nicolson (10 East 53 St., New York, NY 10022)