Gilligan's Wake A Novel

Tom Carson




Trade Paperback

352 Pages



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Nobody named Gilligan appears in this novel. But in the Mayo Clinic's oddly named Cleaver Ward, the first of the book's seven narrators keeps insisting to his psychiatrist, the mysterious Dr. Kildare F. Troop, that he's Maynard Krebs—the beatnik played by Bob Denver on TV's Dobie Gillis. Even his bunkmate Holden Caulfield's sneers can't drown out the screams of a pregnant Richard Nixon down the hall.

Something has to give, so Maynard does. As his voice ebbs into oblivion, some familiar-sounding castaways step forward, spinning improbable tales of their own adventures in the American Century. An old sea dog remembers serving in the PT boats during World War II, when his crew included an idiot called Algligni and his best buddies were "a couple of the other skippers—Kennedy, McHale." A kindly millionaire waxes nostalgic about the day a bearded gent named Gliaglin prevailed on him to arrange a Washington job for Alger Hiss. An elderly ex-debutante recalls her madcap Jazz Age friendship—and then some—with The Great Gatsby's ship Daisy Buchanan, as well as her domestic troubles with cretinous Lil Gagni, "the newest of our maids."

From the way illness and betrayal keep knocking at the door to the compulsively reoccurring variations on the name "Susan," these fantasies are clearly linked in someone's mind, but whose? More hints of a poignant secret pattern in the puppet show emerge as a hellzapoppin' redhead from Alabama lights out for Hollywood and "be-still-my-soul Vine," posing for Mr. Gagilnil's art photographs in the heyday—or was it the eternal night?—of Frank Sinatra's Rat Pack. Next, when not downing Laggilin pills by the fistful, a cunning scientist blandly claims authorship of every sinister event in our post-1945 history, a list that for some reason includes his Watergate-era affair with a high school girl ("dear Sue") in Arlington, Virginia.

Finally, after finding romance in a Paris left breathless by the elusive Lili Gang, Mary-Ann Kilroy of Russell, Kansas, discovers that you can't go home again—or leave the island, either. But by then, she's learned who drafted her and the others for this phantasmagoria, and why the book they're in—at once a splendid comedy, a daring metaphor for twentieth-century America's transformations, and one man's good-bye to an early love and the father whose island was Iwo Jima—is called a wake.


Praise for Gilligan's Wake

"[A] mad-real mind of a novel . . . The resulting playback is intoxicating, ecstatically inventive."—The Washington Post Book World

"Read[s] like a crossword puzzle based on the album cover photo of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band . . . Vivid and inventive . . . Ultimately, all that comic energy deepens into a genuinely moving elegy."—San Francisco Chronicle

"It is a thoroughly postmodern piece of comic metafiction that is as brilliant, devious, and maddening as the old TV show was stupefying and banal . . . Carson wants to connect everything with everything else."—Phil Kloer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution

"Dazzling and witty . . . Wild inventiveness and terrific wordplay, reminiscent sometimes of S.J. Pereleman, sometimes of Peter DeVries. By making language the star, Carson transforms his boob-tube conceit into a captivating romp through our popular culture and cold War history."—Roger K. Miller, The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

"There can't be many books with energy, depth and sheer verbal ability enough to set James Joyce spinning in his grave, but here is one: a tour de force of a novel that expresses the American century from World War II on, both as a hilarious and biting satire and as a dark, delirious, psychedelic dream. 'Genius' is not a word to sling around carelessly but Tom Carson must have had one sitting near him when he wrote Gilligan's Wake."—Madison Smartt Bell, author of Master of the Crossroads

"Carson's prose often has the energy of a song by his beloved Ramones . . . A loopy, exuberant novel-type prose event" —David Kelly, The New York Times Book Review

"If there were an America's Cup Final for fevered, often brilliant writing, he'd be in it, and probably disqualified for ramming David Foster Wallace's dinghy, for scuttling Thomas Pynchon's trimaran, for pooping on Robert Coover's poop deck. . . . It's not all jokes, wordplay, and mad flights, though. Carson has given his characters full lives; more accurately, full inner lives."—Martin Zimmerman, The San Diego Union-Tribune

"What other book could court comparison with Gravity's Rainbow and Finnegans Wake and still survive? And how, by the way, does it survive? By force of imaginative invention, verbal excitement, and delirious wit. Gilligan's Wake, offering a brilliant, tragic reading of twentieth-century American history, is as ambitious and provocative a novel as I've read in a long, long time."—David Shields, author of Enough About Me and Remote

"Only a novelist of Tom Carson's sweeping intelligence and punk nut not pitiless iconoclasm could have written this epic: audacious and original, subversive and often very funny, and spectacularly played out in the interzone between American glory and madness."—Steve Erickson, author of The Sea Came in at Midnight

"The tide . . . barely hints at the conceptual audacity of this seriously comic debut novel. Carson here combines outsized literary ambitions with a voracious appetite for cross-cultural references, concocting a Pynchon-meets-sitcom parable of the American Dream."—Book magazine

"Not so much a nostalgic journey on the high seas of TV as a Viking berserker raid on the last American century . . . At its best. Carson's brand of all-American madness has the bravado and ingenuity of [Pynchon'sl The Crying of Lot 49 and V."—Jason Anderson, The Globe & Mail (Toronto)

"This novel bends seventy-five years or so of political and television history into a enormous Technicolor pastiche, as thick with satire as it is with pop-culture references . . . Carson's style suggests David Foster Wallace after watching seventy-two hours of nonstop sitcom reruns; his verbal antics make for an intellectually stimulating read."—Booklist

"Carson, Esquire magazine's TV critic, is to television what Pauline Kael was to film: a consistently intelligent voice brought to bear on a medium in sore need of astute criticism. Logically enough, his first novel has an audacious TV-based premise; in seven separate stories, characters describe their experiences—as scientist, naval officer, actress, student, beatnik, and rich husband and wife—in postwar America. The twist is that there's something oddly familiar about these seven."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)

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Tom Carson, Esquire's National Magazine Award-winning "Screen" columnist, has written on pop culture and politics for the Village Voice, LA Weekly, and Rolling Stone, among others. He lives in Arlington, Virginia.
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  • Tom Carson

  • Tom Carson won a 2000 National Magazine Award for his work as Esquire’s “Screen” columnist. A longtime writer on pop culture and politics for The Village Voice and LA Weekly, he has also contributed to Rolling Stone, The Boston Phoenix, and The Washington Post, among others. He is also the author of the novel Twisted Kicks and lives in Arlington, Virginia.




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