In Flann O'Brien's great novel At Swim-Two-Birds
, assorted characters of Dermot Trellis, an author of Western dime novels, rebel at their vulgar and degrading profession, drug their creator, and take over the book, converting it to more practical and edifying offices such as demonstrating how to read the gas meter.
Something not entirely unrelated happened a few weeks ago with my novel Lord of Misrule, which won the National Book Award in November. Lord of Misrule is told from the points of view of four racetrack characters — a horse trainer, his girlfriend, a loan shark, and an elderly groom — but from the day I started it, way back in 1997, the novel had a fifth major character who somehow got cheated out of a point of view. She's a middle-aged "gyp" or itinerant trainer. "One horse and no home, that there is your basic definition of a gyp, which I am," she explains with prevailing good nature in the novel, but it seems that underneath that veneer of stoic cheer, resentment was brewing. Now I see that my giving her a "dilapidated" exterior ("a bulge at the waist of her filthy undershirt…could only be what was left of her breasts") and no interior self must have galled; and besides all that, I sent her name into empty space and, as I thought, oblivion, at the last minute. For the first 12 years of her narrative existence, she had been Sally Cruikshank. I never liked that name for Lord of Misrule, which is set in the northern panhandle of West Virginia. Both Cruikshank and, strange to say, Sally, are names rarely heard in rural northern West Virginia, whereas Giffords abound. Acey is a name one sometimes comes across in Wetzel County; why not Deucey? And so Deucey Gifford she became, one of three ragtag co-owners of the racehorse Little Spinoza.
A week or two after the official pub date of Lord of Misrule, which is to say, a week or two after it won the National Book Award as a dark horse without a past performance chart, during the somewhat ominous silence that prevailed between the judges' announcement and the first good notices in the press, a customer review appeared on the website of a large online bookseller. This reader wasn't taken with Lord of Misrule:
I was so excited to get this book. I am a big fan of fiction and horse racing.
I hated this book. It's so overly literary...and it's really hard to follow who is thinking which dreamy, overly written thought. Then it dips in and out of melodrama, and if you didn't know much about horse racing you'd have a hard time following what's going on. (Or even if you did.)....I'm not even going to give this to my fiction loving horse racing pal- will donate it to the local animal charity store instead.
It was signed Sally Cruikshank. An obvious hoax! I struggled to think who might have got hold of that earlier draft of Lord of Misrule, and how, and where. Except it was no hoax. No parodist in the world is that good. Meanwhile I narrowed my eyes and read on ("See all my reviews"). There was quite a positive report on Hagen Pigeon & Dove Seed, 25 lbs bagged. Some dark cherry salad bowls didn't fare as well, then came six positive reviews of animation software, a manual on show jumping, and at last, a work of fiction that met Sally Cruikshank's approval: The Twins' Little Sister (Sweet Valley Twins Paperback):
This book was SO funny! I reccomend [sic] it to all Sweet Valley Twins fans. I loved it when they finally found Chrissy! You have to read this book!