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Mrs. Hollingsworth's Men (edition 2000)
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0618071687, Hardcover)Somewhere in the modern-day South a 50-year-old housewife sits down to write a grocery list, but what flows from her pen is a vignette of lost love and betrayal involving an intellectual mule, burning currency, old love letters, and an absconding husband. Fueled somehow by linguistic purity and the fad of sagging pants, the heroine of Padgett Powell's fourth novel, Mrs. Hollingsworth's Men, laments the ignorant confusion between moot and mute and longs to pour Drano down the crack of a plumber's "ass when he exposed it to her, as he invariably would." What ensues may be evidence of a psychotic break or the work of an inspired rube as Mrs. Hollingsworth gets the hang of the novelistic process. But whatever it is, it incorporates high spirits, irreverence, and imagination.
Addicted to her list, Mrs. Hollingsworth is surprised by the appearance of characters she didn't summon and the bizarre mixture of historical fact and modern culture that unfolds unbidden. The novel within the novel involves a couple of operatives named Bundy and Oswald who have been hired by someone named Roopit Mogul (get it?) to find a candidate for a eugenics experiment designed to engineer "the New Southerner." The candidate will be recognizable by his ability to see a hologram of the Confederate general Nathan Bedford Forrest that Oswald and Bundy project by means of a sort of ray gun. Not having an operator's manual for this gizmo, the bumbling duo inexpertly conjures the flamboyant soldier in surreally unlikely situations. The candidate who is able to see the hologram turns out to be a mentally unbalanced homeless person carrying around a whole load of guilt over disappointing, at one point, his father and his football coach. Helen of Troy makes an appearance too, bathed in golden light along with schools of exotic fish. Things are probably (perbly in Powell's lexicon) getting a little out of hand.
It occurred to Mrs. Hollingsworth that she should do something with herself other than make this preposterous grocery list that was getting preposterouser with every item she added. It was taking on a powerful vigor of its own. The Bundy and Oswald figures, for example, had appeared on the list without her direct intention, it seemed. This equipment they had she could not properly identify except to know that it made holograms and was more technical than she was and appeared way more technical than this Bundy and Oswald who were charged with operating it. It was one thing to have a preposterous grocery list, she thought, and another to have a list you did not control.Powell is a genius at unapologetically rendering accents and dialect into print, uninhibited in excoriating political correctness, and unabashed in his own political incorrectness. Mrs. Hollingsworth's Men is a wildly inventive, free-associating send-up of Southern literature that defies interpretation. --Victoria Jenkins
(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:38:48 -0400)
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