The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Quick Review: I Am Thinking of My Darling

I just finished a really fascinating novel called I Am Thinking of My Darling by Vincent McHugh. Originally published in 1943, the book is about a happiness virus that spreads across New York City like a plague. The disease makes the afflicted lose their inhibitions, act like they perpetually have 2-3 drinks under their belt (without slurring or clumsiness, they're sharper in fact), and extremely resistant to doing anything they don't want to do.

Sounds more like a paradise than a plague right? Problem is that only 10-20% of the populace feel like doing their jobs anymore so law enforcement, public safety, garbage collection etc, go right out the window. And--though the author's description of crowd euphoria is appealing and not conservative or reactionary--some people's euphoric impulses are dangerous to themselves and others.

The protagonist of the novel is a civil servant who's promoted to acting Mayor when the former gets the virus and heads back to Westchester to build model trains. He loves the city in all its particulars and he loves his job (which is why he keeps going even when he gets the virus himself). His wife is an actress who evades him for the entire novel (because her bliss is to take on a series of elaborate character parts) and the chase takes us on a grand tour of the uninhibited city.

The novel feels extremely contemporary and realistic in the city's response to a disaster (so much that I almost put it down after the 50th motion was put before a board, argued about, voted and passed). And the author's descriptions of euphoria and ideas about what happiness means are entertaining and thought provoking.

The book is basically a zombie novel except instead of a walking corpse the infected turn into Daisy Buchanan from The Great Gatsby.

McHugh also offers this really fascinating account of the difficulties of writing a realistic fantasy/science fiction/disaster novel (through a writing class that the protagonist's wife is infiltrating). A student asks if she should try to write a novel about the plague and the professor replies:
I'm afraid I'd say no. Too tough for a beginner...It brings you bang up against that problem of making reality, making the thing stand by itself.

You make that twice as tough by choosing a subject that takes off, leaves the ground of what we still think of as reality [which] is simply the broadest circle of reference common to his work and the reader. A kind of a priori agreement that life is like that, or could be. He'll grant you even a hurricane.

But with this Mardi Gras, this fever, you've got another kind of hurricane. A hurricane in which the houses stand but the people blow away. That's bad for our purposes, because human character is our talisman. The part of reality we use to make all the other parts come alive.

So you have to ask your readers to accept a double convention, as in fantasy. But this is tougher than fantasy. Here he's got to believe that both your realities are real at the same time. First, the way the city and the people acted before this fever came along and second, the new logic after the fever got them.
Good stuff.

1 comment:

C. B. James said...

That's the first review I've read all morning that really made me want to read the book.

Sounds wonderful.