If any writer could be said to be the self-appointed court jester of gay literature, it would be Mark O'Donnell. His novels and plays are an homage in spirit to all the cartoon watchers of his generation (and mine). The title of one of his plays -- "That's All, Folks!" -- says it all: O'Donnell will stop at nothing to win you over with his Bugs Bunny-style smart alecky world view, and his good cheer is infectious. His work is peppered with characters breaking into dopey jingles or reciting cheesy but charming verse. They are boy-men who are both wise-ass
and wise, who, behind a sardonic false front, are open for business in the traffic
of pain, passion and inner peace.
Having spoiled us with the giddy brilliance of his last novel, Getting Over Homer, Let Nothing You Dismay is a disappointment despite its seemingly foolproof O'Donnellian premise: It's Christmas Eve Eve Eve Eve Eve, or five days before Christmas, and Tad Leary, a 34-year-old newly unemployed and evicted Manhattanite, tries to shake off the gloom of his distinctly unseasonal circumstances by spending one day doing nothing but party-hopping. Tad is O'Donnell's queer Ulysses, attempting to find a
purpose to his meandering existence, exemplified by his toil (or lack thereof)
over the vaguest of doctoral theses, "Social Hierarchies of Imaginary Places."
The book begins with a blow-by-blow description of Tad beginning his directionless day. Staring into the toilet at the morning's bowel movement -- "a tattered yellow flotilla, feather-edged and legion" -- Tad is reminded of the
"teeming circles of angels surrounding the Light he'd admired in Gustave Dore's drawings of Dante's Paradiso.The Milky Way galaxy itself, he mused, also resembles a toilet in midflush. Was seeing angels in the toilet or toilets in the cosmos -- firmament as excrement -- a sign of madness, sadness, or
gladness? As long as you find things interesting, he tried to reassure himself,
you will survive."
The problem with Tad (let's begin with the name) is that he seeks, in such excrement-gazing, the answers to more nagging questions of self-preservation. He's also almost infuriatingly acquiescent in his own disparagement. Left and right, hither and yon, Tad is insulted, dismissed, slandered, ignored and condescended to -- by family, friends, ex-employers and the most transparently desperate of academic rivals. Because of his diminutive size, Tad's even mistaken on several occasions for a child, and the wan stoicism with which he accepts his belittlement becomes increasingly irritating. Not that there aren't a few choice moments: a downtown performance artist/uptown caterer
dressed as the Virgin Mary, serving crab cakes and posing for pictures with oohing models, for instance. But at the center is dreary, passive unsatisfying Tad.
The novel's "be grateful for the gift of life" wrap-up may be the perfect Yuletide sentiment, but since it's coming from O'Donnell, I would have liked a little more spice in this Christmas confection. -- Salon
A humorist and playwright, O'Donnell has mastered the art of conveying the bittersweet. . . Ask yourself how many contemporary comic novels have dealt with the issue of class, and you will come up with a short list. Moreover, ask yourself how many manage to skewer Swedish cinema, performance art, silly doctoral theses, and the 'Poverty Barn' along the way, and you'll begin to see why this one is such a treat. -- Time Magazine
What can Tad expect. . .from this pilgrimage> Maybe just a bit of peach in the tiny corner of the world he calls his own.
The New York Times Book Review
Uproarious. . . One of the funniest writers around.
A wise, hilarious stocking stuffer, the kind to read five days before Christmas every year. -- Village Voice
A delight. . . . Academic pretense, bohemian fakery. . . sibling rivalry, the search for love and the comforts of friendship. Let Nothing You Dismay ties them all together in a well-told story. . . By turns zany and meditative, satirical and mellow. -- Newsday
On December 20, 34-year-old Tad Leary, just fired from his teaching job and about to be evicted from his apartment, embarks on a wild, daylong round of Christmas parties. Like Scrooge, he visits his past, present, and future.
It's December 20th, and poor gay Tad's love life is in a shambles. He's lost his teaching job at the tony Manhattan elementary school where he's staff storyteller, is about to be evicted from his apartment, and-my God!-he's 34, older than Christ! Humorist O'Donnell's fiction (Getting Over Homer) is usually well-received for its loopy, silly narrative verve. But at times, his style overblows every little waterfly that skims across his mind ("Tad needed to unwrap a fresh bar of soap in order to shower, and he squirmed at its sharp edges, like rubbing a wooden box against himself, as he lathered up under the spigot's impersonal torrent"). Here, a long round of Christmas parties and get-togethers sends Tad, Scrooge-like, through a dense life-review, including discussions about death (his friend Yoni says she'd like to die the traditional way, the "during orgasm" route). Along the way, there's a clutch of quite moving moments, as the odyssey culminates with most of his losses restored: Friends offer him sleeping space, and his school may take him back. Life is a lovely empty glass to be refilled-but not before a final leaning toward suicide in frigid Central Park. Will this be the first annual gay literary Christmas carol? Only Knopf can know for sure.
"A delight...Academic pretense, bohemian fakery...sibling rivalry, the search for love and the comforts of friendship. Let Nothing You Dismay ties them all together in a well-told story...By turns zany and meditative, satirical and mellow"
Dan Cryer, Newsday
"Uproarious...One of the funniest writers around"
The New Yorker
"A wise, hilarious stocking stuffer, the kind to read five days before Christmas every year."
Michael Musto, The Village Voice
"Wryly comic, sweetly aphoristic"
Susannah Meadows, GQ
"The guy practically takes language out to the park to play with it."
Mark Bazer, Boston Phoenix