Fiction Robert Girardi The Wrong Doyle

ISBN 13: 9781932112184

The Wrong Doyle

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9781932112184: The Wrong Doyle

Tim Doyle's uncle has left him a dilapidated mini-golf course and a broken-down bar. When all the wrong people pressure him to sell out fast, Tim starts to wonder if there is something to the rumors of treasure his pirate ancestor is reputed to have left somewhere along the mysterious coast.

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About the Author:

Robert Girardi lives in Washington D.C. with his wife, poet and novelist Linda Girardi and their three children. He is the author of three previous novels--Madeleine's Ghost, The Pirate's Daughter and Vaporetto 13 and a collection of novellas, A Vaudeville of Devils-Seven Moral Tales. He can be reached at Lgirardi@aol.com

From The Washington Post:

Robert Girardi's fourth novel, The Wrong Doyle, is a furious pastiche of styles and subgenres: part wisecracking mystery, part picaresque, part comic family saga, part conspiracy thriller, part tale of pirate booty, part erotic romp. Its protagonist, 42-year-old Tim Doyle, has been cast out of house and marriage after an ill-fated fling with a French student named Brigitte. (Doyle rarely meets a woman who doesn't long to sleep with him, and, in this book, action never lags far behind intent -- often, it gets out in front of it.) After the death of Doyle's beloved uncle Buck, who reared him, he suddenly finds himself back in his boyhood home in tidewater Virginia, having come into a peculiar patrimony (or uncle-mony) -- a battered car, a 30-year-old wardrobe, a dilapidated marshside tavern and goofy golf course, and Uncle Buck's faithful sidekick and lover, Maggie.

From here the plot quickly gets frenetic. Doyle, emerging from a haze of grief and booze, receives a threat of byzantine complexity: a note duct-taped to the carved corpse of an endangered albino possum, which had been stuffed into the mouth of a plaster-and-chickenwire buccaneer on hole number 14 at Doyle's Pirate Island Goofy Golf. For good measure, "the festering body of a seasquab [has been] rammed headfirst into the gory end" of the carcass. This image gives a sense of both the novel's charms and its excesses. The language is vivid and playful, the mode of the threat all but unprecedented in fiction; it's rare indeed for warnings to come double-stuffed. But in Doyle's world the evil always comes in oversized, flamboyant, cartoonish forms -- instead of working quietly to get what they want, the bad guys are prone to outlandish feats of taxidermy. And that's on top of a breach in story logic: If the evildoers want Tim to sell his nearly worthless property and leave, why, rather than simply appealing to greed, do they get his blood up by issuing needless threats? Because the plot requires that he stay; because the tone requires not low-key real-estate deals but a putrid, garish matryoshka doll of a death threat.

So Doyle digs in, drawing on family reserves of stubbornness -- and on his nostalgia for the putt-putt course Uncle Buck built back in 1948. Girardi handles this material tenderly and well. The prose in The Wrong Doyle, though overheated, is not only lucid but occasionally eloquent, and there are moments of poignancy, such as the one in which Doyle recalls an idyllic postcoital moment with his ex-wife, Flor, as -- early in their relationship -- they watched a funeral procession of Spanish monks: "And this is what Doyle saw now in his dream, the morning sunlight on the irises, on Flor's breasts, on the hooded men, on the white coffin gleaming like snow, like a strip of paper on which nothing has been written."

Alas, The Wrong Doyle is for the most part inimical to such tabulae rasae -- every strip of paper here is furiously written on, in a dozen lurid inks. There is little room for subtlety, even for characterization, because the plot is always racketing on, rolling over everything in sight. Doyle is too busy cracking wise or being harassed, beaten, kidnapped, drugged, bedded. The villains and sirens keep coming: a vicious, venal soft-drink manufacturer who's a caricature of a gay gangster; the cola capo's libertine pothead daughter and her friend, Doyle's filthy-rich ex-girlfriend Bracken, who at one point seduces him atop the marble mausoleum of her most illustrious ancestor; his old running buddy Roach Pompton, a crack-magnate-turned-pillar-of-the-community who keeps a terrarium full of giant lizards and employs a Jamaican woman to perform sensual foot-washings. There are slave laborers, earnest feds, buried treasures, ancient handguns, secret documents, a tiny Irish henchman-homunculus. Girardi also includes interpolated stories of Doyle's hard-luck ancestors, most of them scapegraces like our Tim. Some of these tales are amusing, others not so much (such as the endless diary of the privateer who started it all, Finster Doyle, known as "Turkish" because of the seven wives who accompanied him on his raids).

Despite its exuberance and energy, despite bits of raucous fun, The Wrong Doyle ultimately exhausts the reader, who does not so much read it as get routed by it, and who may eventually balk at the terms of surrender. But the novel does leave the distinct impression that Girardi can do far better.

Reviewed by Michael Griffith


Copyright 2004, The Washington Post Co. All Rights Reserved.

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