Thursday, March 02, 2006

BOOK REVIEW: The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living by Martin Clark
February 13, 2006
Gordon Hauptfleisch
The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living : A Novel (Vintage Contemporaries)
Martin Clark

Evers Wheeling, a North Carolina district court judge, seeks refuge from his increasingly unsatisfying job, failing marriage and self-destructive life of "boredom and beer and bourbon," in several ways. He takes long drives. He tends to his aquarium fish. He gets together with family and friends--mostly in un-Mayberrylike trailer-park parties with his anti-Opie brother, Pascal, and his equally pot-besotted pals.

Oh, and he accepts, from an enigmatic woman who inexplicably cries "albino tears," a bribery-tinged invitation for a cross-country treasure hunt replete with twice-stolen loot, a mysterious letter, valuable postage stamps, a villainous antiques dealer and a whole lot of "bluffing and feinting and Boris and Natasha" doings that lead to his undoing. And a few other's undoing as well: Back at home, Evers' adulterous wife, Jo Miller, has been found dead--thanks perhaps to some wish-fulfilling rituals at an ad-hoc "shrine of the white tears." It may be murder, and circumstances may implicate Pascal as well as Evers.

Or not. In The Many Aspects of Mobile Home Living, an uproarious and often touching novel from Virginia circuit court judge Martin Clark, things aren't always so clear-cut. Events zig where they should zag. The twists and turns have twists and turns. As an ever-confused Evers comments at one point, "Complications really complicate things." And a little connect-the-plots head-scratching is part of the fun of reading this ambitious book as it ricochets from comic novel to legal thriller to magical realism to love story to existential treatise, while Clark chaotically explores such issues as the nature and nurturing of love, and family and, especially, faith--which the main character, in a case of fate handing over Evers to chance, views as "pretty much a sightless, hopped-up, fervent guess."

Still, in keeping with Evers' contention that Jo Miller and Pascal are "the two poles in his life," leaving out some of the unrelated and more dispensable kitchen-sink complications, loose ends and inconsequential incidentals would have made for a better-crafted and more cohesive book without necessarily detracting from its wide scope. The wild goose chase/ money-grab road trip to Salt Lake City, though developing a compelling a interracial love angle that softens the good 'ol boy edges of Evers, proves to largely dilute the local Southern-gothic color. And the metaphysical leanings, characterized at one point as "sort of at the Jim-Jones-levitation-and-chants end of the spectrum," smacks more of paranoia than the paranormal, and could have been toned down for greater intrigue and allure.

But though the storyline may meander, characterizations are vividly rendered and well-considered, and an expressive, literate style dominates the narrative and dialogue. Thus, the changes for Evers, from his years of "bad living, flippant, cavalier attitudes and endless bellyaching" to his emergence as someone to whom "the same world looks brand new," is traced in language of wit, on-target insight, and poignancy.

Sometimes we get all three at the same time. "When you really want something," bemoans Evers at one point, "when you lust, seek, desire, await, anticipate or expect, when you sit in front of the TV after the late news twirling a plastic spoon in a bowl of lukewarm skim milk praying for nine or so hours to pass so that you can check the morning mail to see if the college accepted, the one-night stand wrote, the tax refund arrived or the Publisher's Clearing House made you the winner of a dream house in Wisconsin, when you're really looking forward to something, that's when Fortuna dispatches a couple of her handmaidens to drop a load of shit on you."

Whether or not Fortuna ultimately gets the drop on Evers, he provides an apt and pithy summation of his very own story when he remarks that "this whole thing (doesn't) make sense if you just look at it in ordinary terms." There's nothing simple, shortest-distance straightforward or black-and-white about Many Aspects. The tale of a complex, paradoxical man who lives his life in fits and starts has a lot of ground to cover. Being by turns quirky, serious, surreal, philosophical and laugh-out-loud funny--anything but ordinary--Clark spans those gray areas.

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