ELVIS PRESLEY CALLS HIS MOTHER AFTER THE ED SULLIVAN SHOW by Samuel Charters (Coffee House Press: $11.95; 128 pp.) Poet, novelist and musicologist Samuel Charters steps on nobody's blue suede shoes in this novella, which consists of a single, unbroken monologue that wails and jangles like an electric-guitar solo. The voice is 21-year-old Elvis Presley's; he's phoning home from a New York hotel room on the night after the breakthrough 1957 performance in which TV cameras showed the Pelvis only from the waist up.
It's a moment when youthful innocence and the corruptions of celebrity hang in uneasy balance. Elvis tells his mother, Gladys, that he wants her to act with him in a movie--a movie in which her singing of a gospel song will save him from a girl who is tempting him to "sin." But all the while, band members are holding an orgy in the next room--Elvis has to cover the receiver and tell them to pipe down--and there's a groupie waiting for him, eating cheeseburgers on his bed.
Charters ("Jelly Roll Morton's Last Night at the Jungle Inn") captures the voice, the inflections, the humor, and although the phone-call idea is hard to sustain for 100-plus pages, he writes with rare insight about what it's like for an ordinary person to become famous. It's like being run over by a truck. Total loss of privacy. Disorienting attractiveness to the opposite sex. Finding yourself turned into a symbol in fans' and critics' heads alike.