The Other 1984

ChristopherFace it, the '80s were a seriously crap era. All I can think of is music with lots of synthesizers and actually having to take Madonna seriously. Which is just one reason to appreciate what Allison Burnett accomplishes in his novel Christopher - A Tale of Seduction. He plunges us right into Orwell's apocryphal anno, 1984. In a month-by-month diary, he inhabits the psyche of one B. K. Troop, an avowedly gay (queer? homosexual? bent?) narrator who has one of the most delightful, insightful, and -- to use that much maligned term in literary fiction -- enjoyable voices I've come across in a long time. Fresh. He's so out, he's in. He's self-loathing and self-loving at the same time. He's world-weary but, under that coarse, New York-before-condominiums world, he's a real romantic.

With a real heart. And that heart beats for one Christopher -- his avowedly, unabashedly, incorruptibly straight neighbor. Troop falls, and hard, and it's nothing short of hilarious as we follow the evil, and often half-baked, machinations of our narrator as he fumbles his way toward his oblivious -- or is he? -- prey. Along the way, we get healthy, or rather, unhealthy, doses of Gary Hart's presidential run and EST-ian conclaves which, if memory serves, were all the rage back in the day, all told with Troop's acid eye and delightfully creepy intelligence. And all accompanied by the silent tapping of the AIDS epidemic, a scourge which Burnett (and Troop) keep studiously in the background. (I couldn't help hearing the delightfully sardonic voice of Stewey, the football-headed, Noel Coward-esque baby from the Fox animated show Family Guy, within Troop's hissing monologues -- and I loved it.)

What's more than all this, though, is that Burnett has spun a resolution which truly satisfies, a conclusion which pulls the strands lurking under the surface of the entire tale to the forefront and leaves the reader with a satisfied sense of arrival at an unexpected but totally "right" destination. In other words, good storytelling. Christopher never devolves into Hollywood histrionics. It stays unexpected, and literary. All the more remarkable because author Burnett's day gig is writing movies, and he was trained as a playwright.

One final aside: Burnett is straight (not that that matters, some of my best friends etc.). But in a publicity move, and riding the wave of Kismet, I gather he decided that if readers thought he was gay, so be it. (Actually, as long as it's a good yarn, it really doesn't matter.) He finally had to "out" himself, but that's another story.

Maybe the '80s weren't so bad after all.

'Til next time...

Ken Krimstein Ken.jpg

Mr. Krimstein is a writer, professor, cartoonist, father, and grump who lives in Chicago. So there.

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