The Shandean Spirit Lives on—Man Martin’s The Lemon Jell-o Syndrome
Man Martin’s third novel will appear in May, 2017 from Unbridled Books. The book suggests a corollary to James A. Michener’s quote, “If your book doesn’t keep you up nights when you are writing it, it won’t keep anyone up nights reading it.” The corollary is that if your book doesn’t keep you chuckling writing it, don’t expect people to laugh either. The good news is that this novel had to have kept Martin constantly chuckling as he wrote. It’s funny in ways that will especially appeal to people who love the English language.
Each chapter starts with a few words that start with one letter: a, b, c, etc. He starts with the etymology of the letter itself. Under letter “A” he lists “Alphabet” as one of the words . . . I’d never thought about it being formed by the first two letters, alpha and beta, nor many of the witty gems chronicled by Martin. There are, therefore, twenty-six chapters, with literary wordplay abounding.
The plot is complicated by the title character, Dr. Limongello, who is an imposter but nevertheless makes an interesting prescription for the novel’s protagonist, Bone King. (Bone does not know he’s an imposter when he gets this list) The advice could be–not sure–good for any of us:
Task One: Each morning, before getting dressed, clap your hands and say, “This is a good day!” Repeat no more than once daily.
Task Two: Pay an unexpected compliment. Repeat at least twice daily.
Task Three: Do another person an act of kindness when doing so seems inconvenient – when you have something more interesting, more important-seeming, or more enjoyable to do. Neither ask for nor refuse thanks. Repeat at least once weekly.
The narration is consistently, self-consciously, self-reflective. Bone, even in great pain, concentrates on the nuances of the language:
“’I will have broken my ankle,’ he told Miranda and Knolton, employing the little used future perfect tense to indicate that in the fullness of time it would be discovered he had done so.”
This passage, and Martin’s entire novel, is in the Shandean spirit of Lawrence Stern, author of The Life and Times of Tristam Shandy, Gentleman, a novel that has stood the test of many critical generations since first appearing in 1751.
I’ll let the cleverness of the book speak for itself. Here is a conversation between two of the books’ major characters, Bone and the imposter Limongello, who, at this point, Bone is convinced is the esteemed neurologist. It shows off Martin’s droll, self-reflective humor:
“. . . ‘We’re not just sizing up our mate compared to the monkey in the next tree, we’re comparing her to Angelina Jolie. And not if our banana pile’s as big as the next monkey’s, we’re stacking ourselves up next to Warren Buffet. And on top of that, there’s just life, there’s just freaking life. It’s not that everything’s unreal, it’s that it’s too real. It’s just too dang real. It’s too much.’ Limongello trained his patient, humorous, quizzical stare on Bone. ‘I’m going to ask you an extremely personal question.’
‘The answer to which may be embarrassing, but I assure you there’s no judgment on my part.’
‘Remember 9/11? The planes burning and smoking where they’d hit, and then whoom! These two huge towers going straight down, like they’d fallen in an elevator shaft, one after the other. People screaming, huge clouds of dust and smoke.’
‘Shocking, wasn’t it? Horrible. Appalling. A nightmare come true, and yet,’ Limongello placed a hand on Bone’s shoulder, ‘was there just a little part of you, and we’re not talking about the people, that part was so terrible, of course, but just the sight of those buildings going down, like something in a movie, was there a little tiny part that you never told anyone about and didn’t want to admit even to yourself, watching those two towers – whoosh! just disappear like that – that you thought, ‘This is so neat?’’ Bone didn’t answer, but Limongello’s stare was so compassionate and at the same time so insistent that he finally admitted, ‘Yes, that’s right. I did feel that way. A little.’
‘And you weren’t alone. Millions of people, people who should have been so loaded with calcitonin and noradrenaline they were nothing but little red dials wavering between suicide and homicide, were secretly feeling good. Because at the same time, their bodies were loading them up on dopamine. Imagine that: millions and millions of people having precisely the wrong reaction to a terrible national tragedy, feeling good at the one time they should have been feeling their worst. No wonder everyone’s self is starting to dislodge.’ Bone and Limongello were silent after that.
. . . Admittedly, we may not all have had that reaction to the tragedy of 9/11–it seemed foreign to me. But universal reactions are not Martin’s focus. Like Sterne (here, from wiki, is how Tristam got is name, and its effect on his life):
“[One] of his father’s theories was that a person’s name exerted enormous influence over that person’s nature and fortunes, with the worst possible name being Tristram. In view of the previous accidents, Tristram’s father decreed that the boy would receive an especially auspicious name, Trismegistus. Susannah mangled the name in conveying it to the curate, and the child was christened Tristram. According to his father’s theory, his name, being a conflation of “Trismegistus” (after the esoteric mystic Hermes Trismegistus) and “Tristan” (whose connotation bore the influence through folk etymology of Latin tristis, “sorrowful”), doomed him to a life of woe and cursed him with the inability to comprehend the causes of his misfortune.” See Tristam Shandy, from Wikipedia.
Both authors employ alternate views of reality to assist a reader in examining how he or she chooses to define their personal reality.