Friday, July 27, 2012

Picaresque by Park Cooper and Barbara-Lien Cooper

Reviewed by Anthony Servante

I read this book last year, but because it didn’t fit the conventional definition of “Horror”, I had to pass on it to review. Now, however, I want to discuss it as literature without the restraint to limit myself to the genre of the grotesque. Picaresque is a novel of the arabesque, but stretches its boundaries to include elements of fantasy and adventure. The good guys are villains, or rogues, as the common phrase of the day stated, and the bad guys are corrupt bureaucrats and statesmen. Harking back to the plays of the Restoration Period, where the “wits” were shabbily dressed but perceived society with razor satire in the form of jabes at the foibles of a social class that overdressed and overspoke in an effort to seem witty; these were the Fops, targets of the Wits. In the Cooper work, the rogues are the wits and the social miscreants are the fops; it was a natural progression from the Restoration Period into the Romantic and Victorian Movements, Charles Dickens for one employing the picaresque form in Martin Chuzzlewit (1844) in England and to some degree in Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884) in America.

A summary: “When court jester Reginald was in prison awaiting execution for telling a very ill-timed joke he made in front of the king, he made a couple of new friends: Hobart the magician and his patient, Sunny, an elf who has something very dangerous wrong with her mind.
On the run, they ally themselves with a few others who haven't yet found their place in the world:
--the world's greatest 8-year-old thief
--the world's only female knight
--the world's only talking dog
To all appearances, they've become just a group of traveling performers, but over time, they (and Hobart's mentor, who no longer has a body because he accidentally got trapped in a spell he cast to help him spy on the local ladies) become a crack team of spies for the desert City-State of Caravanserai.
Reginald's letters to his superior, Nina (thrust into an executive position after one of Reginald's early reports seemed to drive Reginald's previous superior insane) tell the tales of his and his group's efforts to outwit and otherwise foil hecklers, bandits, a troll with a fiendish plan for world conquest, the people's glorious revolution... and, when they accidentally stumble upon the source of all the monsters in the world, a very large dragon.
But more importantly, Picaresque tells the tale of Reginald's brave and often-apparently-hopeless quest to talk his employer, Nina, into going on a date with him.”

With its structure firmly planted in satire, a seamless plot, and a lack of character development, the seemingly isolated stories and encounters tie the overall novel together as the travels are but journeys for the sake of journey itself. Life is not predictable, and the borderline criminal is hero in such a irrational state. But Cooper adds the fantastical to expand the picaresque form to include the supernatural road, breaking the laws of nature, per se. The reader not only follows the path to nowhere; he finds nonexistent creatures there in the place where nowhere dwells. A happy conundrum.

I found this book charming and humorous. Don’t expect deep meaning or even moral direction. That is not the point of the novel. It is a journey without a goal; the destination is a good read. I recommend traveling down that picaresque road. It’s quite an adventure.

Dr. Park Cooper was born in Texas, where he currently resides, after a period of time living in Kent, Ohio, where he got his Ph.D. in literature. He writes with his wife Barbara Lien-Cooper at their creative studio Wicker Man Studios.

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