Jason Pettus's Reviews > By George

By George by Wesley Stace
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's review
Jan 21, 2008

it was amazing
bookshelves: contemporary, character-heavy, dark, hipster, smart-nerdy, personal-favorite
Read in January, 2008

(My full review of this book is much longer than GoodReads' word-count limitations. Find the entire essay at the Chicago Center for Literature and Photography [cclapcenter.com:].)

Within long-form fiction, there is a particular thing that I happen to really love, something maybe a little difficult to explain but that I bet a lot of CCLaP's readers enjoy too; and that's when an author will pick a seemingly quirky topic, something that doesn't appear at first could be tied to a number of different periods of history, and then proceed to precisely tie the topic to a number of different periods of history, accidentally telling a Grand Story about society in general while along the road of the Quirky Story you originally thought they were going to tell. Maybe the best (or at least most well-known) example I can think of is Alan Moore's 1985 comic series Watchmen; the way he takes a supposedly niche subject like masked superheroes and instead tells a sprawling saga that lasts from the 1930s to the 1980s, showing how in fact each of the generations in those decades has had their own unique way of looking at the so-called "niche," which in turn says something unique about each of those generations and each of those time periods as well. The reason people go so nuts over Watchmen is not for the surface-level action-based plot of the story's latest generation of characters (although it is awfully inventive and entertaining, don't get me wrong); it's because Moore paints such a deep and incisive portrait of America itself through the various past generations of superheroes in his fictional world, tying together their similarities and differences into one giant uber-plot-engine that propels the story along as explosively as it does.

And hence do we come to by George, the second and latest novel by celebrated author Wesley Stace (Misfortune), who for those who don't know has already had an entire other celebrated artistic life as a musician under his stage name John Wesley Harding. (A cross-media genius; ah, how I do love featuring people like that here at CCLaP!) It is one of these stories like I'm talking about, in this case focusing on the topic of ventriloquism; a story you're led at first into thinking is going to be a quirky "indie-lit" one about an individual strange child, but then elegantly expands into a grand saga over the course of its plot, eventually reaching back into the footlights world of the Victorian Age itself. It's a book that holds untold complexities, a plot filled with sly cross-references that only slowly reveal themselves, an infinitely smart thriller which doubles as a deep character study which then doubles as a historical drama; a book I'm eternally grateful now that I picked up, in that this was yet another in a recent string of completely random novels I've recently checked out from my friendly neighborhood library, done for no other reason than because of simply liking the cover art (and in this case, the music of John Wesley Harding as well).

And indeed, this is probably the best place to start; that unlike someone like, say, Ethan Hawke (whose books in my humble opinion mostly get unfairly maligned, but that's a whole other essay), Stace is a cross-media artist who doesn't stick out as one, who doesn't need excuses from his fans like, "Yeah, but you should hear him sing!" In fact...
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