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An Irish Artist in Mid-Life Crisis : IRISH WINE by Dick Wimmer (Mercury House: $15.95; 129 pp.; 0-916515-46-X)

June 11, 1989|Gladwin Hill | Hill is a Los Angeles author and a consultant on writing at USC. and

All those who think boozy, manic-depressive Irishmen possess an ineffable charm may remain seated. Those feeling otherwise may if they choose leave the room. Now we can begin our meeting.

Our bibulous Celt in this case is Seamus Boyne, a roistering artist of acknowledged talent, whose consuming ambition is to have a painting hung in London's Tate Gallery, alongside those of his idol Joseph Turner.

Boyne is abetted, in a climactic effort toward this goal, by a pal from their salad days in Paris a dozen years before--anomalously, an "Ivy League Jew" from Long Island named Gene Hagar, whose literary ambitions have been stifled by enforced management of his family's dreary exterminating business.

In a mid-life crisis, Boyne inveigles Hagar into flying to London to give him moral support on the eve of a triumphal exhibition of his paintings calculated to clinch the Tate enshrinement.

So far, Plausibility City. But suddenly Boyne's manic propensities take over, and we are whirled through a series of escapades that are a distillation of the Keystone Kops, the Marx Brothers and the Three Stooges. A drunken voyage on the Thames in Boyne's leaking cabin cruiser (the artist's substitute for a cross-town taxi ride) . . . a riotous art show culminating in arson . . . an alcoholic midnight assignation on the storm-tossed boat between Boyne and an old flame from Paris . . . a foray in which Boyne, disguised as a rich Arab, manages to shoplift a canoe from Harrod's and maneuver it onto the upper deck of a No. 30 bus.

Throughout this farrago, poor Hagar is largely a bemused onlooker, intermittently pressing matrimonial yearnings for Ciara, a conveniently transplanted dream girl from the two men's Paris days.

This spate of slapstick might be insupportable if it were not for the narration. Dick Wimmer, who has written short stories and worked on TV films, encases the zany saga in an enchanted aura by couching it entirely in the stream-of-consciousness prose hallowed by James Joyce and disciples.

". . . And now for this pink, sweet-smelling soap, circular motions around the wool of my prime, across my middle and down my thighs--could use a little meat on those wasted bones . . . GOOD GOD, and there's no way out . . . Just a deep breath as I appear, grinning in my birthday suit, before their dumbfounded stares . . . O Mother of Christ, forgot my beret! . . ."

The Joycean "Inner monologue," although abused by amateurs, has its uses. As a sort of spastic shorthand, it offers infinite elasticity for mixing actions, thoughts, emotions, flashbacks and sidelights.

Wimmer takes full advantage of the offbeat mode to convey with a certain fascination a yarn that in conventional prose would hardly work. His artfulness, like a magician's smoke, temporarily obscures the fact that his protagonist is rather an obnoxious boor and that he has pushed farce far beyond textbook limits.

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