Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The View from Pompey's Head


I know it's a feeble joke, but I always think of Robert Burns' "To A Louse" when I think of this book. I wonder if anyone has yet written a poem from the perspective of the louse, looking back at Robert Burns from its perch on the lady's bonnet in church. I suppose the conversation could go something like this:

Burns: What the heck are you doing here?

Louse: I could ask you the same question. When was the last time you were in church, either?

Anyhow, if we can have a whole novel about Hadley's view of Hemingway during the Paris years, surely someone could at least get a dialect poem out of this idea.

But I majorly digress.

The "time machine" of the Birth Year Reading Challenge sent me to this novel and I must say, it is ever so 1950s. Reading a few novels from this time period has really opened my cultural eyes to the reasons behind such social movements as Women's Liberation and the 1960s' counterculture revolution, with its emphasis on expanded consciousness, sexual freedom, community, communication, and hallucinogenics. This would make a terrific companion piece for The Electric Koolaid Acid Test.

That said, this book has most of the elements I like: it is coherently told, with a strong plot line and engaging characters. Anson Page, a young lawyer intent on being a success in New York City, is sent back to his home town of Pompey's Head to investigate an apparent misappropriation of funds that only comes to light after his client's death. The client can't explain, so Anson has to. His investigation beings him into contact with a reclusive writer and his duplicitous wife, and reintroduces him to old friends and enemies. It also allows him to renew his acquaintance with the local girl who was always too young for him, but is now all grown up and smouldering with risk and promise as only a repressed 1950s Southern belle can.

Overall, the book is a little bit dated, because the details can be jarring. Two thousand dollars is a lot of money, and folks still drop into the drugstore to use the directory by the pay phone. However, like a 1950s living room, it has its own distinctive charm.

Excerpt:

She was sitting in the same chair where he had found her the first time, and the usual collection of elderly people had gathered before the hearth. She was wearing a fur coat over a black dress and hadn't bothered with a hat. She rose from the chair when she saw him step from the elevator, and they met in the middle of the lobby. They stood for a moment facing each other, and he tried not to think that he was going away. "My, don't you look lovely," he said. "Are you ready for a drink?"

"Yes," Dinah said. "I could use a drink."

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