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From: Sandy P. Klein
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Subject: To praise one of our own and place him in the company of Nabokov, Joyce ...

The Boston Globe Online
Hooray for Hollywood - and for James McCourt

By David Rollow, 10/6/2002

''Wayfaring at Waverly in Silver Lake'' opens at the home of Kaye Wayfaring, movie diva, in Los Angeles, on the day of the Academy Awards, but it starts with the Olympic women's marathon on television. By the end of the first story a runner has won the race, and the last stage in Kaye's marathon journey to absolute stardom has started. But before we get to the Oscars ...

James McCourt's new collection is a companion volume to an earlier one, ''Kaye Wayfaring in `Avenged,''' but it is a deeper, more detailed book. His first novel, ''Mawrdew Czgowchwz'' (pronounced Mardew Gorgeous), an instant classic, was the work of a prodigy. ''Wayfaring at Waverly in Silver Lake'' proves that prodigy can mature into adult genius. In ''Avenged,'' Kaye's mother remarks that character types are wholly defined by the seven deadly sins, and after long pondering, McCourt has used them as the spine of his new book, one sin per story, beginning with pride, the fountainhead from which the others spring.

Kaye Wayfaring, born Diana Kaye Wayfaring in Clayton, Ga., was snubbed for the Oscar for her previous movie, ''Avenged.'' Conventional suspense is provided by the question of whether Kaye will win the Oscar for her new one. In the first story, she pays a visit to the grave of Marilyn Monroe, who was briefly but importantly her childhood friend; McCourt brings her to life with every remark he puts in her mouth. Kaye returns to the screen as the Irish pirate queen Granuaile. The third story is the shooting of this preposterous movie on location in Ireland. In the next story, the central scene is a Halloween costume party where Kaye angrily unmasks a grotesque party crasher costumed as Monroe, dead, as pictured in coroner's photographs.

Envy is next. Kaye flies with her retinue from New York to Los Angeles on a corporate jet. Always a devotee of travel tales, McCourt orchestrates the flight as a series of conversations, amounting to a symposium, on envy (the only sin that he treats in this frontal way). In ''A Plethora,'' ''a story of gluttony that's gone and devoured other stories,'' and the best of the seven, Kaye's son Tristan is rescued at the last minute from a lethal heroin overdose murderously administered by a biker named El Matador, as nearly as possible death himself. The final story returns us to the present, where the first began: Oscar night approaches. In the end, Kaye enters the pavilion. The envelope, please ...

Bare summary, although a reviewer's duty, cannot convey the richness and wit of this book. Where to start? With, first, the wealth of narrative forms: a board game taken from Yeats, I Ching readings, parenthetic interior monologues, cellphone conversations, e-mails, radio monologues, Hollywood legend, and even, at times, usually when Mawrdew Czgowchwz herself is on the scene, snatches of song, whether an aria or a song from ''The Mikado.'' Narrators multiply. Much of the story is carried by unattributed dialogue that begs to be read aloud, with laughter. The Prospero who conjures the whole shimmering fabric never appears in his own person, but is nevertheless omniscient, dropping into the mind of any character, knowing every story. His ear is flawless, and sometimes lethal: ''The only thing you ever hear them say with conviction is `I don't think so.'''

McCourt is insidious, like reality. His stories refer forward and backward, crisscross, and they sneak up on you in more surprising ways: They are so light and airy, so full of laughter, wordplay, and tomfoolery that it's a mystery how they turn suddenly moving. The sins are deadly, but they are life itself.

James McCourt is a great writer. If he were a foreign novelist - like W. G. Sebald or Italo Calvino or even Mario Vargas Llosa - he would be known to all as a great writer, but as an American product he is subject to the prejudice against home-grown greats. To praise one of our own and place him in the company of Nabokov, Joyce, and Musil is to deny him popularity; to say that he is also entertaining as a good movie or a comic opera is to risk putting him into the category of trash. As Joyce said, miffed at the initial reaction to ''Ulysses,'' ''They might at least have said it was damned funny.'' ''Wayfaring at Waverly in Silver Lake'' is damned funny, a constant delight, and a work of art through and through, and I urge you to run out and buy it immediately.

David Rollow is a writer and painter who lives in Somerville.

Wayfaring at Waverly in Silver Lake: Stories

By James McCourt

Knopf, 322 pp., $25

This story ran on page H7 of the Boston Globe on 10/6/2002.

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