June 17, 2009

In the Wake of the Boatman, by Jonathan Scott Fuqua

I received this book in the mail recently to review, and all the marketing materials sent with it gave glowing reviews.

After reading all of that and the book jacket, I was deeply confused. Here is an excerpt:

In the Wake of the Boatman is a study of family dynamics and sexuality. The narrative concentrates on the life of Puttnum Douglas Steward, born during the middle of World War Two, and immediately considered better off dead than alive by his father. And so begins Puttnum's life. Spanning the next thirty three years, his is an existence of deep sorrow and humorous irony. A befuddled adolescent, Puttnum is a good, hardworking student, but an angry young man. In his junior year of high school, he is arrested for joy riding, an event which galvanizes his father's poor opinion of him. Nevertheless, two years later he is accepted into the University of Virginia on an ROTC scholarship. Cloistered away at school, he begins to detect something different about himself, culminating in a brief, unnerving fling with his annoying cadet commander. After college, in the weeks prior to officer's training school, he dons a dress and pantyhose for the first time, initiating a struggle to accept this unexpected and entirely unwanted facet of his personality. Initially horrified, Puttnum asks to see action in Vietnam, where he is determined to suppress his urge or terminate all problems. Instead, he returns to the states three years later, wounded and decorated and no less confused. Through fate or irony, he immediately becomes an American mole within a Russian spy ring. This event ultimately catapults him into the nation's conscience, where the media and the Army depict him as the prototypical American man. A flustered icon with a bizarre secret, Puttnum becomes the armed forces' token hero, its soul luminary in the Vietnam era. Racked by guilt and his father's death, his problems begin to boil, and he flees his life and celebrity in a final attempt to come to terms with himself. There are many characters throughout the book, all of whom make an impact, of some sort, on Puttnum's. His beautiful sister Mary, a psychologist, understands others better than she understands herself. Her husband, Chester (Survival) Darwin, is the archetypal Hemingway male and the logical person to secede her father as the dominant man in her life. He is the type to swallow tacks to illustrate his hardened nature. His mother, Helen, is a woman of extreme beauty and a weakness for the bottle. Well meaning but misguided, she is an alcoholic with an aristocratic lineage. More than anything, she desires to recapture her family's lost nobility, a state which she believes existed, momentarily, in the early years of her marriage. Puttnum's father, Carl, is a man confounded by the masculine stereotypes of his time. An annoying knee injury, suffered in childhood, keeps him from service during World War Two. A series of scarred ligaments and muscles cramps one of his legs whenever he experiences high pressure situations. Humiliated by the implications, Carl projects his anxieties onto his male child, and worries, throughout the years, that his boy will never stack up. As he gets older, however, he begins to perceive, in moments of introspection, that his behavior is the cause of their alienation.

Got that?

This most certainly was not a book that I would ever pick up on my own, but I did make an honest attempt to read it. Unfortunately, this book is not for me. I could not get past the first few chapters. I skimmed through the rest, and could not for the life of me figure out the point of the novel. And I most certainly did not gain any sympathy for the main character, Puttnum. I was left with the distinct impression "why should I give a crap about him??"

Oh, and another pet peeve. The names!!!! Where in the world did Mr. Fuqua come up with names such as Milton Pilterpuss? Bertrand Capote? Percy Dishbrower? Only the women seemed to have normal names...like his sister Mary and mother Helen.

Since I am still confused about the point of the novel, I am not sure what group of readers out there would enjoy reading this. If you ever wanted to get into the mind of a man confused about a homosexual encounter he had in his college career and is ashamed of his desire to dress in woman's clothing, this book is for you.

I give this 0 stars because I can't wrap my mind around the point of the novel.


  1. Thanks. I'll stay away from this one.

  2. The names sound Dickension. Maybe that's what he was going for?

  3. Thanks for the review. I agree, the names sound Dickensian.


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