STARK RAVING ELVIS by William McCranor Henderson

STARK RAVING ELVIS

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The obsessive climb of a near-psychotic Elvis impersonator--in a slipshod first novel that seems unsure whether to treat ""King Byron, the Emperor of All Elvis Illusionists"" as a Rocky-esque hero or a clinical case-history. Byron Bluford, a factory-worker in Portland, Maine, is 35-ish in 1976, when he meets his long-time idol Elvis backstage in Boston--and receives a gun-and-holster from the puffy star. ""Something enormous had happened here. Elvis had given him a secret message. . . . You've got to finish it for me, man. I'm too far gone to be what I was."" So Byron, child of alcoholic nobodys who wanted him to be somebody, reactivates his 1950s Elvis-mania, doing his ""early Elvis"" act at a local bar, boosted by new love Wendy, a would-be singer/songwriter. (""His trip seemed so close to hers: an absolute star voyage--but in his case so spectacularly twisted !"") True, an attempt to get a Boston agent falls miserably flat. But just then the real Elvis dies--giving Byron his big break: a memorial concert in Harvard Square, with Byron's act a hit finale, enough of a hit for him to quit his job and head for Las Vegas. He finds a slimy, semi-effective agent there; he gets support from a couple of drug-dealing Elvis fanatics; he moves from a seedy club to a less seedy one and eventually earns a place in the upcoming Battle of the Elvises. Meanwhile, however, Byron's increasing obsession (and foul, Elvis-like behavior) is alienating loyal Wendy--while his performance/life-style is paralleling that of the late Elvis' decline. And then, when he doesn't win the contest (even though he's clearly the best), Byron goes bonkers, takes some hostages, and undergoes a series of highly dubious, overwritten awakenings: ""Byron knew he was crying for his own craziness, his own waste of a life, the darkness that held his mind, the loss of his woman, the end of his youth, the crumbling of his dream. He was weeping for himself. . . Elvis was gone now, ripped to pieces, given up, given away. But somewhere up ahead, with a touch of luck, the Byron of the future might be waiting in the mystery of history for his own dog-eared self to catch up at long last."" Dog-eared indeed: the old punk-with-a-dream scenario--served up with sentimentality, sleaziness, and a few misplaced pretensions.

Pub Date: Sept. 19th, 1984
Publisher: Dutton