Grady's Reviews > Death by Sunshine

Death by Sunshine by Allison Burnett
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Apr 04, 12


Welcome Back, BK Troop!

Allison Burnett has created a character in BK Troop who is destined to become as much a household word or character as Holden Caulfield in JD Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye'. This overweight, alcoholic, gay, aging (!), superintelligent fuddy fop is so entertaining and yet so completely well sculpted that he is able to maintain our intense interest from page one to the last page of each of the novels in which Burnett has placed him. Beginning with CHRISTOPHER, followed by THE HOUSE BEAUTIFUL and now with DEATH BY SUNSHINE Allison Burnett has found a character who while at the extreme of some excesses still manages to maintain that quality of human spirit that places him in situations where he ends up being a hero of sorts.

Burnett took a breather from the adventures of BK Troop with a very fine novel UNDISCOVERED GYRL, and while those of us who are hard-nosed fans of Allison Burnett's inimitable writing style applauded from the sidelines, it seems Burnett heard the rumble in the literary crowd pleading for more Troop. And here it is. In DEATH BY SUNSHINE our Troop heads for Los Angeles (cum Hollywood) from his infamous zany rooming House Beautiful in Manhattan to follow the concept of transforming his two books (mentioned above - only now his own authorship rather than Allison Burnett's!) to jump into the fray of screenwriting. Once in the land of the lotus he begins to meet strange world passengers - a girl who had been an ex-roomer in House Beautiful who suggests he submit his fabulous book to a producer - as she wants to be a movie star and sees an opportunity to star in her old friend's film! Troop meets all manner of people from gabby cabdrivers to phony producers to a young, rather ungainly hustler lad, one Calvin Wirt, who ends up introducing Troop to even more strange folks until Calvin goes missing and Troop finds himself refusing to return to Manhattan (despite the failure of becoming a screenwriter) until he discovers the whereabouts of Calvin Wirt. Soon he is on the trail of a possible murder instead of missing person case, and he engages a wonderfully sculpted Mexican man Jesus whose wife Maria befriends Troop and Troop gets to know the three boys of their family, including the middle lad Domingo who is effeminate but completely accepted by his parents - and of course understood and favored by our old friend Troop! The story swirls in sun and rain and Santa Ana winds until Troop ultimately uncovers the truth about the disappearance of Calvin Wirt and can return to Manhattan a wiser, if poorer, hedonist.

The joy of reading Allison Burnett is not only the incredibly inventive and well cast story - a page-turner if ever there was one! - but it is also his extraordinary command of the English language. Examples: on drugs ' The drug is bad enough when it renders intelligent people stupid, but when it's smoked by those who are stupid to begin with, its effects are nothing short of catastrophic.' On LA 'I saw the city as an endless tract of winding roads, clogged with motorized coffins, leading nowhere. My malaise grew white hot, until not just this city, but all the earth was reduced to a cruel limbo, a waiting room before death struck home, ineluctable and absurd.' On Hollywood and movies 'Making movies was about creating images that lived in the unconscious mind long after the story was ridiculed or forgotten. No surprise then that, since the birth of cinema, those most able to flourish in the enterprise were those whose childhoods had been so appalling that they lived in dreams themselves.' On the frustration of travel 'I was a man who belonged at home in bed. So few of us know how to grow old! It was time for me to return to The House Beautiful, to burn old wood, drink old wine, and read old books. There I would recline and wait for Death, whose clip-clop carriage I fancied I could already hear, coming closer and closer, making its patient way to eternity.' On politics 'Truth be told, these days I eschew politics altogether. It's become a carousel without horses. More hard cheese than soft soap. A cretin's lullaby.'

Only a sampling of Burnett's genius, but that should be enough to make the reader realize that we have a solid literary genius in our midst. And just maybe Allison Burnett will succeed where his BK Troop failed - in transforming this wondrously entertaining set of books into cinema. It would be a perfect fit! HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!

Grady Harp
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