From the Publisher
“Everett is one of the most gifted and versatile of contemporary writers . . . His work takes hold of us and won't let go.” Alan Cheuse, NPR
“Everett [is] a scandalously under-recognized contemporary master.” The Wall Street Journal
“A mischievous and very funny satire on poststructuralist thought and literary ‘theory.'” The Guardian (London)
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
A creator of fantastically clever fictional conceits who at times is incapable of channeling his seething imagination into a coherent story line, Everett (Frenzy) attempts another ambitious feat of literary ventriloquism in this off-kilter academic spoof about an infant with an IQ of 475. Grandiosely reminiscing, at age four, on the tumultuous first few years of his life, Everett's hero, Ralph, recounts his manipulation and eventual imprisonment at the hands of a group of nefarious, constantly squabbling adults. "My father was a poststructuralist pretender and my mother hated his guts," declares Ralph, who at roughly 10 months confounds his parents by composing hyper-sophisticated poems about the human anatomy. Ralph refuses to speak, but begins devouring books in his crib, reading "all of Swift, all of Sterne, Invisible Man, Baldwin, Joyce, Balzac, Auden," and everything else within reach. He's reading Daisy Miller one evening when he is kidnapped and held hostage in a remote, pink stucco research institute, by a violently unstable child psychologist who hopes to dissect him, mentally and perhaps physically, and ride her discoveries to academic superstardom. He is then kidnapped from his kidnappers by a rogue Pentagon officer, who views Ralph as the ultimate espionage device, and kidnapped again by a Latino couple seeking their first child. These events are not recounted in linear fashion, but are, as befits an infant learning to mimic his surroundings, interspliced with a maddening hodgepodge of semiotic analysis, intricate equations and diagrams and often silly imagined dialogue between philosophers and writers. Emerging from this clutter of ideas is a notion that will strike a chord for those without the wherewithal to wade through this densely philosophical novel. Genius, Ralph proposes, must not be measured by one's command of all of Western civilization's great ideas, but by the ability to find "a way back to the beginning where the truths are uncorrupted and honest and maybe even pure." (Nov.) Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
"My father was a poststructuralist and my mother hated his guts." That's exactly the sort of snide aside one might expect from an exasperated child prodigy--but not from an enfant. Little Ralph, however, is barely a year old when he makes this observation, and though he refuses to speak, he writes quite observant comments on his sheets and is soon plowing through the classics of Western literature and philosophy, which his mother sneaks him. This gives rise to considerable discussion of the nature of language and being that will be fun for the academically inclined but doesn't quite fly. In any case, the heart of the novel is the conflict between Ralph's loving mother and those who are terrified of the little boy's genius--his arrogant but clueless dad, a mean psychiatrist, and a priest bent on exorcism. The ever-experimental Everett (Frenzy) makes good points about the way children who don't fit the mold are treated in this society. But finally this is a not-so-uncommon story of how an intuitive artist mom ("with a wild hand I envied") wrests control of her son from the forces of evil. Had Ralph been less mean-spirited himself, this could have been a funny and insightful book, but he's crabby and insufferable enough to leave a sour taste. For readers who like fancy intellectual footwork.--Barbara Hoffert, "Library Journal" Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Grabbing academia where it hurts the most, by its swollen, unintelligible poststructuralist theories, the prolific Everett (Frenzy, 1997, etc.) uses a most unlikely foil: a genius baby who reads and writes but refuses to speak, striking fear into his parents and all those who kidnap him for their own nefarious ends. Baby Ralph, born with his formidable intellect ready for higher stimulation, is opposed to speech on aesthetic and philosophical grounds. Having no such scruples against writing, however, and feeling himself loved by his frustrated-artist mother, he begins composing notes to her ("ralph needs books in his crib ralph does not wish to rely on the moving lips for knowledge"), and once she gets over her shock, like a true mother she nurtures him. Meanwhile, his fathera pompous academic who fawns over Roland Barthes, bringing him home for supperat first believes Ralph to be mildly retarded. But he's in for trouble once he realizes that his son really is not only smarter than he is but able to blackmail him over an affair Daddy's having with a graduate student. The shrink these parents find for Ralph can't accept what he is either, but even so decides to kidnap him, hiding him away until she can use him to (she hopes) make her famous. From her mean-spirited, alcoholic clutches, he falls into the hands of a top-secret military intelligence group that wants him for a spy. But then Ralph is saved from his maximum-security prison cell by his guard, a quiet Latino who smuggles him home after Ralph writes that he misses his mother. Through all this, including a final free-for-all that involves his previous captors, the Catholic Church, and Ferdinand Marcos, the babywonder is developing into a full-blown cynic who finds Lacan helpful for potty training and uses Aristotelian logic to deconstruct what's real and what's fiction. A smart, rollicking sendup, but to grasp it all requires patience and an insider's knowledge of the deconstructionist gamemaking it a story not for everyone.
Read an Excerpt
By Percival Everett
Graywolf Press Copyright © 1999 Percival Everett
All right reserved.
Chapter One Pharmakon
My father was a poststructuralist and my mother hated his guts. They did not know - how could they have known? - that by the age of ten months I not only comprehended all that they were saying but that I was as well marking time with a running commentary on the value and sense of their babbling. I lay helplessly on my back and stared up at their working mouth parts, like the mandibles of grasshoppers at work, mindless in their activity.
One evening, my father looked down at me, my mother standing beside him. He was not a fat man, but he was bloated, moving as if he were larger than he actually was. His face looked pulpy and I wanted to, and often did, squeeze his fleshy cheeks and pull. He hated that, and my insistence on doing it, coupled with my lack of speech, led him to say, "Maybe he's mildly retarded."
"Maybe, he's just stupid," my mother said and so stationed herself in my thinking as the brighter of the two. I smiled my baby smile at her, unnerving her on a level that her speech kept her from knowing. "Look at him," she said. "He's smiling as if he knows something."
"Gas," my father said. "He can't be stupid." He was bothered by the thought. "Look at me. Look at us. How can he be stupid?" What an imbecile.
"Lots of geniuses come from people of average or even less-than-average intelligence," she said.
Never were truer words spoken and they hung in the air like a tenacious perfume. My father fanned his nose and stroked the thin beard of which he was so proud and for which he cared like a garden. I looked away from his pudgy cheeks to my mother's soft features. Oedipal concerns aside, I preferred the company of my mother, not simply because of the comfort of her softness and somewhat more compassionate nature, but because she possessed a native intelligence, a subhuman mind, though nothing negative is meant by that, an ability to abandon cohesion to what my father would call the signified. But he, for all his gum-bumping could not begin to understand not only the disconnection, but the connection itself, falling repeatedly into the same trap, the thought that he not only could talk about meaning, but that he could make it.
Unties of Simulacrum
Although they were well on their way to separate ways, I moved things along one evening. I lifted my father's fountain pen from his shirt pocket as he was putting me down for the night. I was nearly one year old and the time and I used his pen to write the following on my crib sheet (pardon my pun):
why should ralph speak ralph does not like the sound of it ralph watches the mouths of others from words and it looks so uncomfortable lips look ugly to ralph when they are moving ralph needs books in his crib ralph does not wish to rely on the moving lips for knowledge ralph does not like peas ralph is sorry he stole da-da's pen
The following morning I awoke to my mother screaming. "Douglas! Douglas!" she called to my father.
Inflato came running to her, his mouth frothy with teeth cleaner.
"Look," she said. "Look at that." She pointed into my crib. I scooted over so they could see better.
"It's not funny," Inflato said.
"I know it's not funny." She looked at him looking at her. "I didn't write it."
"Enough already. It's not funny."
"Did you write it?" she asked.
"No I did not. Does that look like my handwriting?"
"Well does it look like mine?" she shot back.
He stormed out. I could hear him spitting into the sink in the other room. My mother remained and she was staring at me. She believed that my father had not written the message and she know that she had not and, barring some very strange intruder from this realm or another, I was the only other suspect. She left the room and returned quickly with a book, which she opened and handed to me upside down. I turned it over and began to read. She took it back and again gave it to me with the words turned over. Again, I righted the book and read.
"You understand?" she asked.
A weird giggle escaped from her throat and she swallowed it as quickly as it had been issued. She looked as if she were contemplating calling my father back into the room, but she didn't. "And you can read?" she asked.
I nodded once more.
She took the book and read aloud from the first page. At least, she pretended to read from it, as she made up some drivel about bears and a blond girl. I shook my head. She then read, "'One: The world is all that is the case. One-point-one: The world is a totality of facts, not things.'"
Excerpted from Glyph by Percival Everett Copyright © 1999 by Percival Everett. Excerpted by permission.
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