Victoria Alexander’s Honest Look at American Culture
In much the same way that James Joyce used Homer’s Odyssey to create a classical stage set for the characters of Ulysses in the dear dirty Dublin in 1904, V. N. Alexander’s new novel uses Shakespeare’s Hamlet as an archetypal structure that casts a shadow over the stereotypes of our new American life of junk food, junk politics, and NSA/Homeland Security.
Like the tight narrative and focused attention of Thomas Pynchon’s shortest novel, The Crying of Lot 49, Locus Amoenus uses hilarity and conspiracy theories to present the tragicomedy of a contemporary America that is beyond belief. Alexander has a good ear for prose rhythms, and the uplifting wave of her prose style picks you up and carries you all the way to her Coda—a coda that reminds us as her story becomes framed in journalistic reporting that American History is a dumpster and not an Akashic Record backing up karmic justice. From Jefferson’s Louisiana Purchase that made Manifest Destiny and the American Empire inevitable to Jackson’s Cherokee Trail of Tears to Lincoln’s suspension of Habeas Corpus to FDR’s Day of Deceit with Pearl Harbor to Wolfowitz’s and the Neocons’ call for a new Pearl Harbor that became 9/11 to Obama’s National Defense Authorization Act and Arctic Drilling for the oil companies, the United States has always been bad while believing itself to be good.
Alexander is truly humorous in a bittersweet way that never becomes nihilistic. Everyone notices European Evil, whether it is the case of the French Revolution’s Reign of Terror or Hitler’s Holocaust, but no one noticed when Obama shredded the Constitution of Madison and Jay in the National Defense Authorization Act, and no one noticed when the One Percent bought out the country in a hostile takeover brokered by Goldman Sachs.
Locus Amoenus is an important contribution to contemporary American fiction, and perhaps it is time now for Alexander to move up from the small arty presses to the major publishing houses in Manhattan. (Farrar Strauss take note.) But, on the other hand, since the large publishing companies now are all owned by the giant corporate conglomerates who produce our junk food for the mind, we should celebrate the contribution of The Permanent Press of Sag Harbor for being, like the Farmers Market in Union Square and the Berkshares local currency of Great Barrington, Massachusetts, a healthy alternative to airport fiction.