A Year In The Life Of American Genius
“. . .it is characteristic of American genius that the casual eye does not easily distinguish it from charlatanry. Purity of intention lies at the center of American achievement. Modern American writing is about honesty. The American tradition is to offer discovery, not virtuoso performances.” — Hugh Kenner
“A satisfactory novel should be a self-evident sham to which the reader could regulate at will the degree of his credulity.” — Flann O’Brien
“For every ten jokes you acquire a hundred enemies.” —Laurence Sterne
Ode To Sunset, A Year In The Life of American Genius is a story told in the American pulp fiction vernacular just as Dante’s Divine Comedy was written in the vernacular of its day. Unfortunately, the resemblance ends there. The novel is not autobiographical nor is it a roman á clef. Written as a retro-pulp, the composition reflects the methods of Raymond Queneau’s OULIPO group as well as those of the mysterious Raymond Roussel and with a nod to Flann O’Brien and Laurence Sterne. No actual poets were named in the writing of this fiction with the exception of dead poets who serve as historical or literary markers as is often required of dead poets. Ode To Sunset is a work of imagination steeped in literary allusion as the narration of a year in the life of a postmodern fictional poet with a resolute commitment to his art and personal independence.
Carl Wendt, last of the hardscrabble hardboiled poets, has the look of a well-worn Alex Trebek with the pit bull demeanor of a Mickey Rourke. As a poet, he is not quite Charles Baudelaire and not quite Charles Bukowski living in a city not quite Frisco. In this role, he serves as an exemplification of Hugh Kenner’s contention that the difficulty in distinguishing American genius from charlatanry is that the American tradition is not about virtuosity but purity of intent.
The street-wise poet has his complacency shattered by the death of an ex-girlfriend, and the prospect of becoming homeless. News that friends and acquaintances of his generation have died or are dying greet him at every turn. His steady side hustle, a culture column in a weekly newspaper, is in jeopardy, and not to put too fine a point on his panic, there’s a serial killer of poets on the loose in the city. Ode To Sunset follows Carl Wendt in an allegorical yearlong picaresque meander from the sacred to the profane and back through a landscape of allusion, observation, critique, appropriation, commentary, satire, and sarcasm in an irreverent no-holds barred look at the literary bedrock of American poetry through the eyes of the last of his kind, Poetasaurus rex. As an eight second David Mamet pitch, think of Ode To Sunset, A Year in the Life of American Genius as “A Confederacy of Dunces meets The Savage Detectives with voiceover by George Steiner.”