Book Review: Dr. No
Book Reviewed by Robert Fleming
“…a hilarious, fantastic satire of our times and culture.” —Robert Fleming
Bestselling author Percival Everett is a literary alchemist with his new blockbuster, Dr. No. Like most authors of his quality, he has dazzled readers with his ability to blend established genres and assume various fictional characters to the limit.
On the heels of an extensive award-winning career, including a Pulitzer- finalist nomination and a lifetime achievement award from the National Book Critics Circle, Everett is having his time in the publishing limelight. This latest novel, Dr. No, comes after two critically- acclaimed books of complex themes and intricate plotting, The Trees and the Pulitzer Prize finaist Telephone. Dr. No stretches the boundaries of conventional storytelling, adding a large measure of knee-slapping comedy and penetrating insights.
Like any superb word wizard, Everett, the 65-year-old English professor at University of Southern California, can twist a plot to his liking, produce a rabbit out of thin air, providing a fitting, thrilling conclusion to his mysteries. As the author said, concerning his versatility: “If I can make you believe it, then it’s fair game. I’ve been called a Southern writer, a western writer, an experimental writer, a mystery writer, and I find it all kind of silly. I write fiction.”
In Dr. No, Everett brings his surrealist flair to a reimagined James Bond mash-up of Dr. No and Goldfinger, where the themes of foul play, political mayhem, race and media, crime and punishment, philosophical satire, and the mystery of life and death. Enter Wala Kitu, a math professor who specializes in the theory of nothingness. His foe is worthy of Ian Fleming’s muses, upcoming villain John Sill, who enlists Kitu’s aid to break into Ft. Knox to steal a shoebox containing nothing. Once Sill does the nothing caper, he wants to transform a Massachusetts town into nothingness. Everett takes the rich Sill to stops like Miami, Corsica, D.C. and finally Kentucky in a madcap saga full of belly laughs.
Joining Wala Kitu is his loyal one-legged bulldog, Trigo, and his faithful math department sidekick, Eigen. a woman whose shoes doesn’t match. Following Sill’s offer of $3 million to Kitu to help him, the villain-wannabe tells the professor that he is being watched and that his house is electrically swept every other day. He also brags that he stole the real Mona Lisa and that the painting at the Louvre is a fake.
Everett’s sardonic style incorporates tips learned from Robert Coover, Ishmael Reed, Zora Neale Hurston, Chester Himes, Samuel Butler, and Mark Twain. The combination of trendy cultural mythology and experiments with style, content, and character propel the reader through some unknown territory. There’s even some Richard Pryor and Mantan Moreland in the text too. As other Everett novels do, Dr. No portrays the false bottom of the global media and the icons it flashes before us. The author acknowledges its products can be quite tasty and attractive, but when it goes down it is devoid of vitamins and nourishment. When the Ft. Knox caper unravels in hilarious snippets the reader is satisfied, but many questions remain. As it should be.
As Everett said in a recent interview, he spoke about bringing smiles to the readers. “Humor is a fantastic tool because you can use it to get people to relax and then do anything you want to them.”
There are funny bits and pieces along the way. Kitu dreams that his dog can talk and Sill’s pilot, Gloria believes Agostino Aguedo, is a ghost after falling through the floor into a shark pool. Sill’s fave omelets are made from gulls’ eggs. He also thinks the vice president is “a valet in arms, the official Ed McMahon and the Secret Service detail assigned to him are just mall cops with dark glasses.” And everyone is under surveillance “with a satellite with a telescope as powerful as the Hubble, with a range strong enough to spot a pimple on a chihuahua’s ass at night.”
Supposedly Everett’s agent told him that the writer could make a lot of money if he wrote the same book over and over again. Readers are glad that he didn’t listen to the man. Upon the publication of this latest book, the Everett cult grows, and waits for his next fresh, outsider volume of wisecracks, quips, smirks, and valuable insider knowledge. Forget Seinfeld and his stale gospel of nothing. In Dr. No, you will find the real thing.