MJ Nicholls's Reviews > Take Five

Take Five by D. Keith Mano
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Dec 08, 2010

it was amazing
bookshelves: novels, dalkey-archive, merkins, voluminous
Read in December, 2010

Take Five is a big bounding satirical heffalump—583 pages, running backwards, in the life of boorish filmmaker Simon Lynxx: a sort of Brooklyn-based Peter Griffin.

The novel is split into five (well, six, actually, but who’s counting?) parts. In each, Simon runs around tormenting his film crew, his backers, his English relatives, and random ladyfolk. At the end of each, he misplaces a sense, starting with taste and ending with sight.

He speaks in a long-winded and dense smart-ass babble, spouting racist, religious and (most often) sexual abuse, insulting and abusing everyone he meets, including the women who willingly offer their bodies to him. In fact, most of this novel is taken up with Simon attempting to have sex, and its capacity for squirm-inducing horribleness knows no limits.

On paper this sounds as appealing as a year-old flan. However, Mano’s writing is truly incredible. This book is clearly a hard-won masterpiece, chocked with glorious prose and dazzling verbage. The style mimics a close-up camera shot, the action described in clipped sentences, then stuffed with mountains of freewheeling brain sputum that goes on and on. It is, evidently, a novel about excess, and in the end, it seems, redemption.

The easiest comparison is Martin Amis’s Money, but even Mart didn’t try and offend everyone (and this novel does offend everyone, barring a small tribe of elders in the Faroe Islands). Simon never loses his knack for mockery and sexual innuendo, even as he is dragged senseless into a marriage with a female priest—who he seduces in a Brooklyn sewer pipe— but he learns to live without greed and fame. It’s all we can expect of him. You wouldn’t catch Peter Griffin in a church, would you?

So: can you spend 583 pages with this putrid and horrible character? I can put up with anything if the writing is good. Others will, more likely, fault the actions of the other characters (his abuse draws people nearer to him, people he seriously screws up, but isn’t that always the way?) or find the prose too dense. So I don’t really recommend it to anyone. Just mention this as “the great overlooked novel of the eighties” at parties. That’ll do.
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Reading Progress

12/02/2010 page 3
1.0% "Something weird happened to me when I started this today. I feel asleep this morning and had one of those locked-body dreams, where you know you are asleep and try to wake up, but can't move. Then snakes started coming out my mouth. This book is already building its own myth." 3 comments
01/26/2017 marked as: read
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Comments (showing 1-33 of 33) (33 new)

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Nathan "N.R." Gaddis "So I don't really recommend it to anyone" is how I feel about a lot of the books I love and I'm looking forward to Mano's masterpiece. Thanks for giving this book a review I'm quite certain it deserves.


message 2: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls As I recall it was an infuriating but rewarding book, probably a bit dated for most readers' sensibilities. Most of Mano is out of print I think except this one.


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis So far I've read through three of his other books - The Bridge, Topless (inscribed!), and War is Heaven. All great, but I'm interested to see what he does in the doorstop genre.

I'm also hoping it's a bit more 'reader friendly' after this current demanding doorstop I'm reading - McElroy's Women & Men.


Drew Hmm, this could replace Magnetic Field(s) as my go-to "great overlooked novel of the eighties." Although I already know your feelings about that one.


message 5: by Richard (new)

Richard MJ wrote: "...So: can you spend 583 pages with this putrid and horrible character? I can put up with anything if the writing is good...."

Sounds a lot like A Confederacy of Dunces, except that Ignatius, um, remains celibate.


message 6: by MJ (last edited Apr 05, 2012 11:32AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Nathan: Oh I want to read that. It used to be on the Dalkey catalogue but it has mysteriously vanished. So much for keeping classics in print . . .
Drew: Heh. I only read that one because I love 69 Love Songs and Stephin Merritt.
Ricky: Yes! Bang on comparison, I was going to make that myself but you leapt in there with your ferocious Elmer Fuddian intellect.


message 7: by Richard (new)

Richard MJ wrote: Yes! Bang on comparison, I was going to make that myself but you leapt in there with your ferocious Elmer Fuddian intellect...."

Heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh-heh.


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis I'm Liking your review redundantly.
How did you happen to come across the knowledge of its (the novel's) existence?


message 9: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls I saw it on the Dalkey Archive catalogue. It was extremely cheap so immediately appealled to me.


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis I thought maybe a dirty old lady in the park stuffed it into your rucksack. . .


message 11: by Richard (new)

Richard Nathan "N.R." wrote: "I thought maybe a dirty old lady in the park stuffed it into your rucksack. . ."

...in exchange for a handful of acorns.


message 12: by Stephen M (new) - added it

Stephen M Great review. I would love to read this one day. Isn't there some Oulipoean gimmick going on too?


message 13: by Drew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Drew Senseless! Hah!


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Stephen M wrote: "Great review. I would love to read this one day. Isn't there some Oulipoean gimmick going on too?"

You are perhaps reading it at this very moment, but my Review of Take Five largely consists of an article Mano wrote describing how he wrote it and what rules of composition he wrote it under. As easily acknowledged, MJ is the Oulipoean guy, but I would suggest that Mano's book is not anything in the direction of difficult going. His set of rules mostly make for not-stupid sounding prose.


message 15: by Drew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Drew I'd call it somewhat difficult, if only in that it requires sustained attention. For me, it was one of those books I read at about half my normal reading speed. But I would agree that Mano's Oulipoean constraints fly under the radar if you don't know about them beforehand.


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Drew is correct on both counts. His "somewhat difficult" (regarding sustained attention) is more accurate than my loose "not anything ... difficult." I do recall feeling something odd about his prose, but not quite knowing how to place it. Mano's explication was the trick.


message 17: by Drew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Drew Undoubtedly. The main thing I would have noticed with no foreknowledge is the verb tenses. Take Five is written in present tense, but Mano doesn't allow himself to use the "s" on the singular form of the verb more often than every ten words, I guess. So you end up switching from "Simon is up" to "Simon has risen" to even "Simon will rise" all in the same page--with different verbs, of course. That was what was most jarring to me.


message 18: by Stephen M (new) - added it

Stephen M I can't believe that he was able to write an entire book that way. That blows me away. When I first read Nathan's review, I tried it out as a creative writing exercise with a friend. It didn't go over too well haha.


message 19: by Drew (new) - rated it 5 stars

Drew Oh, and the colons. So many colons.

Really though, if I were a writer, I'd be taking notes. I'd never use these things as constraints, but I'd certainly consider them as guidelines to avoid cliché.


message 20: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls I was blown away by the constraints when I read about them. The prose is noticeably weird and the lengths Mano went to to avoid cliche seem insane. But good.


message 21: by Stephen M (new) - added it

Stephen M I love the line about Mano sending the manuscript to his editor. His editor didn't even bother to read the thing because he spent so much time on it and every word was exactly what he wanted. I'm not sure if I'd ever want to write that way. I wouldn't be able to finish a single page.


message 22: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Stephen M wrote: "I'm not sure if I'd ever want to write that way. I wouldn't be able to finish a single page."

Least you save time on the rewrites. You have to write nowadays knowing an editor won't save you, coz editors expect masterpieces to arrive fully formed on their desks. Grumble.


message 23: by Szplug (new)

Szplug I just bought this today for two bucks—after using my phone to spec the GR reviews. Thanks for helping me decide in favor of Mano, MJ (Nathan's fiver was persuasive, too).


message 24: by Szplug (new)

Szplug Oh, and it's another rarity issued by the Dalkey Archive!


message 25: by MJ (last edited Feb 10, 2013 11:27AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Chris wrote: "Thanks for helping me decide in favor of Mano, MJ (Nathan's fiver was persuasive, too). "

Great! According to Count NR von Vollmann Mano's other books are tame compared to this. (Whispered I suspect this is the only one worth bothering with).


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis MJ wrote: "Great! According to Count NR von Vollmann Mano's other books are tame compared to this. (Whispered I suspect this is the only one worth bothering with)."

It's the only of an encyclopedic quality. I think the four of his first six which I've not read yet are something akin of a black humorism. But at least one or two of them look jolly. I'm not sure why he hasn't gotten himself scheduled for this year's (my) itinerary. But he might. He might. But certainly, Take Five with no reservations.


message 27: by Szplug (last edited Feb 10, 2013 11:34AM) (new)

Szplug It was also a phone-check that allowed you to convince me to get City, Sister, Silver—I sat down to read it a few weeks ago, but, after the confusing maelstrom of the opening pages, realized I wasn't in the proper mood, and set it aside for a future date. I find Czech writers innately appealing, for some unknown reason.

Mano's dedication to William F. Buckley, Jr, of all people, served as an indicator of what exactly the madness inside might pertain to...


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Chris wrote: "Mano's dedication to William F. Buckley, Jr, of all people, served as an indicator of what exactly the madness inside might pertain to..."

Ah, yes. Mano wrote lots and lots for Buckley's periodical. Mano is a conservative. I don't think he's a reactionary, but hard to tell. He is christian--Episcopalian. But he's not stupid. At least not in his novels. His politics and theology are still in question.


message 29: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls Not exactly selling me on that second Mano. In Take Five it is easy to mistake him for a wise-cracking gonzo lefty nutjob from the slums.


message 30: by Szplug (last edited Feb 10, 2013 11:53AM) (new)

Szplug I have no problem reading the fiction of a political conservative—hell, I've read (and enjoyed) one of Buckley's espionage capers. I was just a little surprised to see his name as the dedicatee, particularly in a work from the Dalkey Archive. But perhaps that's a silly reaction on my part.

The book looks very interesting. There's the reverse page numbers and sections, the indications of a manic protagonist, the spiritual aspects it allegedly explores; and I read a few pages to get the feel of things, and I was sufficiently impressed that it will be either Mano or McElroy who gets the next American fiction spot that opens. And thanks to you too, Nathan. A fiver from the pair of you is enough to convince me on any title.


message 31: by knig (new) - rated it 5 stars

knig I'll tell you, you know, what ruffles my fanny feathers. Every obscure soul whose read this book is reminded of someone else whose done it before: but wheres the quality, never mind the quantity I say. I thought Nathaniel West, Cool Million. Joe Bloggs says its The Bushwacked Piano by Thomas McGuane. Jane Doe is adamant its the Confederacy of Dunces. Countless others. But this is the best. End of.


message 32: by MJ (new) - rated it 5 stars

MJ Nicholls This book is suet generous. Forget the Dunces and Wests and Bloggers. Your review is a fine specimen too, my louche amigo.


Sofia I thought I might re-read this thing because I think I might be able to read it now as what it feels like to grow up and go mad.


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