The following review appeared 8 December 1995 on the Mark Twain Forum.
Copyright © Mark Twain Forum, 1995. This review may not be published or redistributed in any medium without permission.
Dennis Eddings <email@example.com>
Western Oregon State College
Jack Cady's The Off Season
offers the reader a wildly improbable premise that, once accepted, leads
to a wonderfully
good tale. Part of Cady's artistry lies in his ability to make that
Judge for yourself: when the first white men arrived on what is now known
as the Olympic Peninsula in Washington state, the native Indians readily
gave the white
eyes land on which to build their town, Point Vestal, for the Indians knew
land was cursed. (Anyone who construes this "generosity" as
proof of the Indians'
sagacity in putting one over on the white man has begun to catch on to
humor.) The nature of the curse? Point Vestal is subject to "time
ghosts from the past may inhabit the present. And inhabit it they do.
one knows the way, one can jump back into the past without benefit of a
with a flux capacitor. As one character puts it, "The key to Point
Vestal . . .
is that all the time is happening some of the time" (41). Past and
mingle freely in Point Vestal, with outrageous results. Since the original
quite literally Victorians (the town rose in the 1860s and 70s), and since
original inhabitants still are active participants in the town, all that
is indeed "A Victorian Sequel." Add to this mix a Presbyterian
Parsonage that changes its location
at will (or whim), and the stage is set for uncommon events.
Into this time unbound world comes Joel-Andrew, an excommunicated Episcopalian minister, and his dancing, multi-lingual cat, Obed, who can purr in Greek and becomes quite proficient in Chinese as the book progresses. Joel-Andrew is more than an unfrocked preacher he is a prophet and agent of the lord. He is also responsible for freeing August Starling, wife killer, from the ghostly past, thus releasing evil into Point Vestal for Starling, we discover, is an incarnation of Satan. The story centers on Joel-Andrews' coming to knowledge of the nature of Point Vestal, the nature of himself, and the true nature of good and evil. Indeed, the book climaxes in a literal battle between good and evil as Joel-Andrew and Starling square off on Main Street. This grand battle is fraught with outrageously comic side shows involving the U.S. Navy, talking porpoises, vindictive whales, ducks flying in formation, and the airborne Presbyterian Parsonage.
The Off Season concerns more than Joel-Andrew, however. It is also about the town and the efforts of five people who gather together, twenty years later, to write the history of those events in 1973-74 that led to the momentous battle between Joel-Andrew and Starling. They are writing "a true history and not an official one" (34) a distinction Twain would have liked and understood. In doing so they come to see that past and present are inextricably connected and that the true curse of Point Vestal is its own past. The upright, moral, duty-bound Victorians who created the town brought with them the same double standard eloquently described in Stephen Marcus's The Other Victorians. In the midst of Victorian propriety stand opium dens, houses of prostitution, smuggled Chinese laborers who can be thrown overboard in a pinch, and a thriving drug trade. The corrupt present, then, is revealed to be little more than an extension of a very corrupt past, as the following, very Twainian, paragraph suggests:
At Joel-Andrew's back, time jumps intensified, and while the time jumps were colorfully macabre, they were not unbeautiful before the music of the choir. The crowd watched, and it seemed there was very little to repent. Asian women wept above emaciated babies, while children lay with blackened hands and faces beneath the scorching scent of napalm. Street kids rapped, gave each other high fives, or lay stoned and dying in doorways. Disemboweled grandmothers, dressed in gaudy South American costumes, lay beside starved bodies of Africans, while oil rigs hovered in the far distance; and a babble of Middle Eastern languages argued above purring engines of Mercedes and Lincolns, above the exasperating cough of lungs burned by mustard gas. (271)But why is the Mark Twain Forum reviewing this book? In his "Author's Note," Cady states:
Ever since I was a pup, I've been enamored with the works of Mark Twain. The book that follows is not an attempt to emulate the master, because that would be a surefire failure, a real dumb thing to do; and I am not a masochist. I had one thing foremost in mind when I wrote The Off Season. I wanted to write a book that would gladden the hearts of readers, but also a book that, if possible from the land of wit and poetry where all great writers surely go, my hero Mark Twain would enjoy reading.Cady has succeeded admirably on both counts. This strikes me as a logical place to end this review, but I suspect the critical minds of Forum members will demand details. The question then becomes, why would Twain enjoy reading The Off Season? A full answer to that question would entail an extensive essay, which this review is not. Consequently a few general observations, more suggestive than definitive, will have to suffice.