Wakefield, by Andre Codrescu ***

wakefieldWakefield is absurdist, dark humor written by award-winning poet and playwright Andre Codrescu. Thank you to Net Galley and to Open Road Integrated Media for permitting me to access a DRC. The title, originally published in 2004, will be available for purchase digitally September 8.

Wakefield is an anti-motivational speaker. He’s in great demand. People grow weary of the cheerful chipmunk types that show up with a big grin and a you-can-do-it attitude, and so corporations are seeking balance by also providing a guy that tells them it’s all a waste of time. As a natural cynic, Wakefield assumes, when the devil comes to call and tells him his time is up, that he ought to be able to strike a Faustian bargain. But oh what a surprise—the devil doesn’t want his soul. “You’re assuming, dear sir, that you have one…”

The devil wants one thing only: proof that Wakefield has found a “true life”. This broad brush stroke gives the author all sorts of leeway. At times, Wakefield’s search is savagely funny. There are some literary references that I thought were terrific; quirky philosophy; and, true to his poetic nature, some kick-ass figurative language.

The main problem is that the plot doesn’t really have a structure to hold onto. “True life” is too general, and so Wakefield wanders, both geographically, in his relationships, and in his own thoughts. The author is obviously a very intelligent man, but he’s relied too much on innate cleverness and not enough on the structural requirements of a novel. Even the most unconventional literature needs to be able to hold its audience, or it won’t be successful.

I confess I took issue with the author’s characterization of Marxism as a kind of religion; then as well, one might think that someone that spends his life considering matters philosophical would recognize that Marxism and Stalinism are not necessarily identical.

But this isn’t the reason for my rating. The three stars reflect a story that has moments of great strength, even ones that made me laugh out loud, but its inconsistency and lack of a problem that builds, peaks, and is resolved in one way or another, makes it hard to get a handle on. The result was that I found my attention wandering at times, which doesn’t happen much , and then I’d have to tab back a few pages and do some rereading. Even with notes in my e-reader, I can’t find any functional pattern. There’s an ending of sorts, but it seems to be sort of tacked on because the book has reached its required length, rather than because the plot has led us there.

Those that are familiar with Codrescu’s other work and are fans may feel differently, and so I recommend this novel to that niche audience.

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