Words gone wild! The best and the breeziest for beating the heat in 2002
Part two of Darin Strauss' four-part The Real McCoy (Dutton, $24.95) opens with a quote from Emerson: "Trust men, and they will be true to you." It's countered by a boast from Baudelaire: "Americans love so much to be fooled." Of course, Emerson also said "I hate quotations. Tell me what you know." Whether Strauss forgot or ignored this point is beside it; the reality is that a dupe can be a con can be a dupe. So is the reality of Kid McCoy -- Strauss' fictional (but traceable) source of the title's cliché -- a scrawny, small-town liar set on making something of himself by prizefighting from the Midwest to Utah to Manhattan when not reinventing himself as a womanizing poet, politician, or jewel thief. It's tempting to call The Real McCoy the most cynical work of the new century so far, yet another revisionist literary history, this time about a gifted if troubled con, circa 1900. Another "golden brick," as its protagonist would say, in the unconscious ensemble effort by our handful of young, great authors (Whitehead, Lethem, McCracken, Christopher, Franzen) to craft the great American epic as a sum of many parts. But Strauss (who will be at BookPeople on June 27) is more cinematic than cynical with his follow-up to Chang and Eng, the sublime story of the legendary Siamese twins. In fact, if his debut was a carnival, this is a World's Fair. It's that ambitious, that fun. It's a novel that moves with a relentless passion, much like the America and man it at once judges and rejoices in.