The Great Redstone
(Cool Grove Press, 2010)
There’s a long tradition of pillaging classic texts for their architecture, Martin Amis’s recent appropriation of the Decameron being one of the less distinguished. Kevin Bartelme does better with The Great Gatsby. His satiric vision may not play in Peoria, but it should go coastal with no effort and is a must-read for those in the boroughs who turn to the Hamptons in search of paradigms.
Bartelme is merciless in a light, cheerful way, and his opening quote from Melville is much to the point—that it may be wise to regard one’s life as a joke that will be passed around. Like Gatsby, Redstone is about money and power, but the civility that controlled behavior in the roaring ’20s is gone, and this update is brutally hilarious. The narrator, Martin, is on the Island (read: Hamptons) as ghostwriter to a “hysterical woman...and noted author” of best selling “inspirational” books. Martin’s gig is to ghost Buddha: the First Entrepreneur, but he procrastinates, subcontracts the project, and socializes instead.
Bartelme is good at lampooning rich, powerful, and famous people, such as “Conceptualist” Fuzzwick Offenfusser, creator of asinine art and a foundation named after himself, Barrington Stoat, Sparky Goldfuegel, Muriel Zink, and Junius Flatmeat, who keep running into each other at the endless parties.
When the wildly successful artist Harry Poon shows up we see the uneasiness of fellow art hustlers in each other’s company; fearful, snide, and conveying the frantic insecurity of American success. The writing is clear, direct, and dry enough to make you pucker, as when Alicia pimps up the exotic Danica for the trusting Martin. He’s much like Fitzgerald’s Nick Carraway—pleasant, trusting, and a little behind the beat.
Dacron Redstone makes his appearance in an understated, neighborly way, waking Nick with a knock at the door. “Just call me Dack,” says the fabulously rich Redstone, and soon reveals himself as a pathetic social climber from nowhere, and a liar who claims to have played football for Notre Dame and stopped an inexorable U.S.C. drive on the 10 yard line.
The writing is as ruthless as the people it presents, but it’s hard to stop laughing as Bartelme expands his menagerie to complicate the games. Not for nothing does Bartelme have the respect of Robert Grossman and Taylor Mead.