Thursday, April 3, 2014

Beyond Desperation

Forgive me if today’s book blog post seems a smidge familiar.  A while back, I hosted author Anthony Paull for a fun collaboration: a conversation between the unlikely heroines of each of our novels.  My post this Tuesday was about failure, perseverance, growth and humor in ‘real life,’ and that got me thinking about those qualities in fiction.  This, in turn, brought me back to Anthony Paull and his novel Desperation Lingers.  It is arguably the second-strangest book I have ever wholeheartedly loved (The Love Song of Monkey by Michael S.A. Graziano holds steady in first place).  In spite of its surreal qualities, I found it immensely relatable.  I never thought I’d consider a plunger a symbol of freedom and defiance, but sometimes you really do need to break out the ugly tools to separate the muck from the men.
So here’s my (five star) review of Desperation Lingers, the e-book version of which happens to be on sale at the moment for only 99 cents.  Or if you’re feeling like a big spender, you can splurge on one of those paper-and-ink thingys.  Those who are my kind of weird will find this to be a book worth reading more than once.
Where to begin?
How to describe Desperation?
Anthony Paull has created characters and a story unlike anything I’ve read before - and that’s a good thing.
In the interest of full disclosure, I have a personal love affair with Miami that may have slightly predisposed me to enjoy this novel. I was born there and my frequent return visits feel like soul-deep homecomings. That Paull so perfectly captures the flavor and quirks of the city that is my “woman hood” made me smile
That said, this isn’t a story for everyone. But it should be. Desperation Lingersreads initially like a farce, with characters and events so absurd and larger-than-life, it’s a cross between Shakespeare and Tom Robbins, with maybe a dash of community theatre and a hint of Miami-fied BBC sitcom.
Got it?
The genius of Desperation lies not just in Paull’s outrageous characters, hilarious observations, and perfect turns of phrase, but in his ability to turn the world of this novel on end every time the reader thinks she’s got a grasp on things. To be frank, this is a book with an unlovable protagonist, and if not for the colorful world Desperation inhabits, I might not have cared enough to read past the first few chapters. Desperation is a brusque, physically-unappealing aging alcoholic whose level of self-absorption is impressive even by South Beach standards.
Except that she’s not.
In Paull’s skilled hands, this unlovable woman is transformed. I don’t want to say too much, because the ultimate beauty of this novel is the stunning twists and turns it takes - particularly in the rollicking final quarter - but I will say this: tough it out past those points where you want to throttle Desperation and you’ll be rewarded. She has good reason to be hard and staid, and she could easily have remained the caricature she seemed at the outset. In the end, though, her absurd qualities are her most endearing and enduring, and this larger-than-life tale shrinks beautifully until it is just about heart-sized.
If you believe people truly can change, or if you’ve ever felt disapproval from a Frieda Kahlo portrait and wished you could change, this book is for you.
If not, this book is also for you.
Grab a plunger and wave it proudly. Desperation Lingers is not what she seems.
And neither are you.

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