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Biggest Elvis: A Novel

Biggest Elvis: A Novel

by P. F. Kluge

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By the author of the heralded novel Gone Tomorrow, a sparkling work on American pop culture

Part mystery, part love story, part mordant commentary on America's waning presence worldwide, this hugely entertaining novel tells the story of a trio of Elvis impersonators working out of a club called Graceland in Olongapo, Philippines. In their act, Baby Elvis (who


By the author of the heralded novel Gone Tomorrow, a sparkling work on American pop culture

Part mystery, part love story, part mordant commentary on America's waning presence worldwide, this hugely entertaining novel tells the story of a trio of Elvis impersonators working out of a club called Graceland in Olongapo, Philippines. In their act, Baby Elvis (who portrays the youthful Presley), Dude Elvis (who does the movie years), and Biggest Elvis (the oldest and fattest of the trio) incarnate the King's evolving life.

Their popularity grows; in a tawdry, anything-goes town, a successful act becomes more than that, almost an obsession. But there are those who think that Biggest Elvis has to go, and Biggest Elvis himself senses that something ominous is coming. Biggest Elvis revives and re-envisions the life of America's leading twentieth-century folk hero. In this edgy, evocative, and compassionate novel, P.F. Kluge gives Elvis a second chance? or a second coming.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
Elvis lives again as symbol of the American character in this insightful, entertaining fable set in the Philippines of the early 1990s, the final years of the U.S. military presence at Subic Bay. Failed English professor Ward Wiggins finds his true calling as the senior of a trinity of Elvis impersonators that becomes the hottest act in Olongapo, the nearest town to the naval base. Chester Lane portrays the youthful Elvis, his brother Albert the more worldly "Dude" Elvis of the movie years and Wiggins the "Biggest Elvis," whose heartbreak and tragic fate are apparent in each mournful refrain and every gyration of his sweaty, bespangled bulk. Ward does not think of their act as imitation or shtick, but as an extrapolation to spiritual heights the original could never achieve. "We went way beyond him. We crossed borders he never traveled, lived in a time he never saw, played in places he couldn't picture.'' Indeed, Biggest Elvis becomes something of a religious figure among the local people and the vivacious bar girls of "Graceland." But while he has some success in improving these people's lives, there are powerful, destructive forces at work beyond Biggest Elvis's ken. Kluge (Eddie and the Cruisers) tells his story through revolving first-person narratives in the voices of the Elvises and others, providing a nuanced look at U.S. imperialismAmericans' good-natured exploitation and Filipinos' ambivalent responsesand at more transcendent issues of faith and destiny. Eschewing the empty kitsch of some other Elvis invocations, Kluge fashions a resonant, often poignant tale full of humor and, ultimately, hope. (Aug.)
Library Journal
The author of Alma Mater (LJ 11/1/93) returns to fiction in a well-written, highly entertaining novel laced with dark commentary on Filipino life and American imperialism in the 1990s. The Lane brothers and Ward Wiggins do two shows a night at Graceland, a crummy bar in Olongapo, Philippines. They impersonate Elvis at the various stages of his life for an enthusiastic audience of sailors on shore leave and their "dates," the bar girls who make a meager living satisfying the desires of Americans on the nearby naval base. Chester plays "Baby" Elvis (the handsome, sexy Presley), Albert is "Dude" Elvis (during the movie years), and ex-English professor Wiggins (the conscience of the novel) portrays "Biggest" Elvis (Presley during his last, sad, drug-addled years). The Lanes regard this gig as just a temporary job, but Biggest Elvis takes his role much more seriously and involves himself in bettering the life of the bar girls. Kluge has created a diverse group of sympathetic, three-dimensional characters who take turns telling the story. Each responds differently to the redeeming possibilities of love and the opportunities for betrayal that life offers them. An excellent choice for public libraries.Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr. for the Book, Seattle
Joanne Wilkinson
In an old movie theater renamed Graceland in Olongapao, Philippines, a trio of American Elvis impersonators takes the town by storm. Incorporating the three stages of the entertainer's life--young Elvis, the youthful romantic; middle Elvis, the jaded movie star; and terminal Elvis, the bloated, doomed Las Vegas headliner--they conjure the King's tragic life and offer it up for public consumption. Former college professor Ward Wiggins, who plays Biggest Elvis, sees himself as a sort of rhinestoned messiah, while his younger sidekicks are in it for the money and excitement. As their act grows ever more popular, they become increasingly involved with the Philippine bar girls of Graceland, who are shipped off to a seedy brothel in Guam when the singers take their act on the road. Unfortunately, when the novel shifts to Guam, it loses some of its power. Still, Kluge, best known for the novel Eddie and the Cruisers (1980), which also has a rock-'n'-roll theme, is a practiced hand at investing his musical scenes with surging emotion and an almost mythic resonance. Overall, this is a compassionate, provocative work.
Kirkus Reviews
Kluge (Alma Mater, 1993; Eddie and the Cruisers, 1980, etc.) again explores the mythical power of rock-'n'-roll. The "magic" of pop, this workmanlike novel argues, is all about a special moment in time. In this case, that moment occurs in 1990 in a sleazy town in the Philippines where countless whorehouses and bars service the Americans based at Subic Bay. There, three unlikely fellows join together in an Elvis impersonation act that re-creates the three stages of the King's career: "from punk to hunk to bulk." Chester Lane covers the early years, and he's a true innocent himself. When the trio arrives at "Graceland," the bar in Olongapo where they perform, he resists the temptations of the flesh and falls for a Catholic schoolteacher, the sister of the local radical priest, who would like to see all American bases closed. Chester's brother, Albert, the middle Elvis, is jaded and ambitious; he beds every b- girl in sight and hopes to begin a career in cheap Asian action flicks. The late Elvis, or "Biggest Elvis" as he's called, is the oddest—an overweight former English professor named Ward Wiggins, who's just been fired from his job on Guam. Wiggins performs with a missionary zeal and self-consciously sees the show as a deconstruction of the King's career, right down to the tragic finale. Fancying their show as an "incarnation," not an "act," he becomes a local folk hero both to servicemen and the peasants, and he taps into a transcendent power in his ritualistic performance, attracting tourists to this grimy backwater. But the show's success, both commercially and inspirationally, threatens many of the powers that be, and the three are sent on a Pacific Rim tourthat fails to recapture the wonders of the Graceland show. Biggest Elvis's Christlike persecution has a happy ending, though, if not quite a resurrection.

Overall, a likable narrative that manages to transcend its pretentious commentary about rock, religion, and American imperialism.

Product Details

The Overlook Press
Publication date:
Sold by:
Barnes & Noble
File size:
795 KB
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

P.F. Kluge is Writer in Residence at Kenyon College. He is the author of Gone Tomorrow and A Call From Jersey, published by Overlook. Two films, Dog Day Afternoon and Eddie and the Cruisers, are based on his work.

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