In this darkly funny novel about family in the 1950s and '60s, television serves as both stage and star. It is a capricious god that provokes and shapes the family members and their relationships with each other, particularly the relationship (or lack thereof) between father and son. ("My father has been in a cataleptic trance before the TV since November of 1963. I think there was something hypnotic in the Kennedy funeral procession.")
Instead of being punished by his own feelings of guilt for his neglect of his family, Dad is figuratively punished by imagining that the cast of Combat is pursuing him. In the text, however, the scene of his pursuit appears to be real. In his here's-what-it-means-to-be-a-man role, Dad eats the cheapest no-name brand of liverwurst, Vienna sausages right out of the can, uncooked Spam, and Cheez Whiz--aerosol--sprayed straight from the container. All of it is consumed in front of the TV, of course.
These hours in front of the idiot box illuminate the tragic truth of the stuff that many father/son relationships are made of: silence but for media mentoring. Curtis White brilliantly depicts the family unit transformed into rage and reruns. --Susan Swartwout
Not to be mistaken for TV Guide, White's (Anarcho-Hindu: The Damned, Weird Book of Fate) witty collection does revolve around a night of TV viewing, but these 1950s serials have never been seen on prime timeAthanks to their adult content, their black humor and their tendency to trap the narrator's father inside them. In "Combat," Dad's a bridge; in "Dotto" (a quiz show like the $64,000 Question), he's a cheating contestant; in "Sea Hunt," he's a missing diver. Reminiscent of the technique employed by Robert Coover in A Night at the Movies, the stories move between the audienceAin this case, the family of a boy named Curtis WhiteAand the demented, autonomous television set. Of course, the detritus of conformist 1950s popular culture has been preferred fodder for satirists since R. Crumb. That's the one problem with this virtuosic spoof. Although the satire is on target, it is very familiar, not least from today's TV: even the lamest shows have learned to make ironic reference to their own stereotypes. White is at his best when he balances riffs on, say, the Kitchen Debate between Nixon and Khrushchev with his own fictionalized autobiography, bringing pathos to what would otherwise amount to shooting fictional fish (or, perhaps, plastic ducks) in a barrel. (June) FYI: Half of Dalkey Archives' May issue of the Review of Contemporary Fiction will be devoted to essays on White.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Whether he's talking about the Kitchen Debates or about the Third Man, Curtis White's prose is absolutely stunning. Read morePublished on March 26 2001