THE CATACOMBS by William Demby


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William Demby propounds a theory of the novel in The Catacombs. And there is no mistaking that it is he who propounds it, because the narrator is, in fact, a a writer named William Demby. ""Novels"", he says..."" are supposed to be slices of life, slices of plum cake. So once the cook has created and stirred up the mixture he has no moral right or obligation to censor, or select: all the cook-writer can do is smell and say `Yum-yum' or 'this stinks.' Didact Demby runs true to form -- or formlessness. He creates and stirs a novel plum cake neither censored nor selective. There is a Negro girl named Doris, the daughter of Demby's college sweetheart, whom the writer meets when she is in Rome, working on location as one of Elizabeth Taylor's handmaidens in Cleopatra. Demby decides to write a book about her. He introduces her to a married Count whose mistress she becomes. The Count leaves her despite the fact that she carries his child. William Demby -- author, narrator, character -- chronicles Doris' relationship, discusses Africa with her, and says things like ""the atrocious innocence of clothes."" He ""sticks in "" newspaper stories from the early sixties, which demonstrate -- as newspaper stories are wont to do -- that there is violence, hatred, comedy, stupidity, and irony in the world. And to further complicate matters, obfuscate issues, and endear college sophomores to him, Demby plies throughout his ""cubistic time"" theory. Take away plum cakes, catacombs, Picassos in print, the African mystique, and you have an incomplete story, sloppily rendered.

Publisher: Pantheon