Saturday, June 6, 2009

Book Review: In the Courts of the Sun

In the Courts of the Sun by Brian D'Amato is 704 pages long but it is printed on thick woodsy paper so it bulks up like 1,200 pages. I don't know why the publisher -- Dutton, a division of Penguin -- chose to use that paper, unless they wanted it to look really BIG so they could charge $29.95 for it.

The lousy paper is not the least of the book's problems. The simple comic-style cover art depicts Mayan pyramids beneath a cogged calendar clock whose hand is closing upon the year 2012. On the inside back flap it says, "Jacket design by Richard Hasselberger. Mayan scene illustrated by Gene Mollica. Front jacket clock image and back jacket game and glyph images supplied by Brian D'Amato." All I could think was, "It took three people to come up with this cover?" On that same flap, author (and supplier of 'glyph images') Brian D'Amato appears in his photo with a sculptural construction of some sort, not unlike those we made as children using Tinker Toys. He looks tired and disheveled, as though he'd been working on it all night. His brief bio assures us that he is an artist of international renown. It ends with the sentence, "He can usually be found either in New York City, Michigan, or Chicago." Is someone looking for him?

The front flap copy is a marvel of the copy-writer's art. Dutton probably asked some poor editorial assistant to try to summarize the novel but she clearly couldn't make any sense of it. Instead, we get sentences like this: "For thousands of years the fate of mankind has been etched into the fabric of history, and not even the greatest advancements in modern science and technology have been able to thwart it." Thwart what? The fate of mankind
etched into fabric? Whew! Help me out somebody, please. The descriptive copy ends with the idiotic assertion that this novel "will join the ranks of Neal Stephenson's Cryptonomicon, Jorge Luis Borges's Labyrinths, and Gary Jennings's Aztec." I wonder if the person who wrote those words had read any one of the three books cited (let alone the one under discussion).

On the back of the dust-jacket you'll see a quote from Raymond Khoury who calls
In the Courts of the Sun "awesome and brilliant." I forget -- is Raymond Khoury published by Dutton too? Just wondering.

I confess to having read only the first few pages. I didn't have the nerve to press on after I came across the following sentence on page 5: "I began to be able to move my eyeballs." This was frightening enough, but just a few lines down, the narrator -- I think it's the narrator -- describes his left knee as "cauliflowerish." Now I was truly scared. The next paragraph did me in:

"Score one for the Freaky Friday Team, I thought. I really was in another person's body. Specifically, I was in the brain of someone named 9 Fanged Hummingbird."

9 Fanged Hummingbird? Specifically, I was in the brain of someone named Brian D'Amato. And I found it positively
cauliflowerish. I had to get out. A question leapt to my mind. "Was there a human being alive who could endure another 690 pages of this?" I hope not. On the other hand, I have friends over at Penguin and they need to make a living.

Though this review is not a joke, it does have a punchline. Here it is: this is the first volume of a trilogy! Heh-heh. Oh my. Perhaps Mr. D'Amato is a conceptual artist and his vast project is meant as a stinging commentary on the state of the book industry. Oh by the way -- I found the book on a front-of-store fixture in Borders labeled "Borders Original Voices." I didn't realize the suits in Ann Arbor had a sense of humor.

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