Percival Everett by Virgil Russell: A Novel
“. . . an excellent window into a complex and gifted author.”
A great author is old and dying. As he declines, he writes a book about a fictional character who is also old and dying. The character has the same name as the great author. But it’s all fiction—until the great author actually dies, leaving this book as his last work.
And so we have Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, the final novel of Percival Everett. Dr. Everett was an English professor who wrote more than a dozen books, a few of which were brilliant, and one (I’m Not Sidney Portier) recognized with several literary awards.
There is much to like about Percival Everett by Virgil Russell. As with Professor Everett’s other books, this one’s a melting pot of historical, cultural, and scientific facts and ideas. Dr. Everett rivals Wallace Stegner in his ability to be intelligent about so many things within a single novel.
The greatest strength of Percival Everett by Virgil Russell may be the book concept itself, which teases and challenges the reader by inter-mingling fiction and (faux?) biography. The narrator is not always trustworthy or likable as he hopscotches events in real or imagined events and characters. In this manner, Professor Everett goes down a previously blazed path by John Hawkes, Philip Roth, and others, but he pushes this vein of post-post-modern narration even farther.
Despite the complex juxtapositions above, parts of Percival Everett by Virgil Russell are written with clarity and raw realism. The short passage below between a veterinarian and her client is a good example:
The vet comes back and they slice open the horse’s neck and of course find nothing, but there is the beloved animal now with his neck as open as the doctor’s Wednesday afternoon.
The vet says, Leave it open. Irrigate it. Let it granulate over and form a big scab. We don’t want to get in nature’s way.
Don’t cover it at all?
She shakes her hands and begins washing them in her pail of Betadine solution. She looks up, pulls her hair from her face with the back of her hand. Are we going to go into your house and have sex or what?
But not all of Dr. Everett’s writing is so straightforward. Parts of the book have a meandering quality; more than once this reviewer found the book hard to follow.
In general, three-page paragraphs and one-page chapters suggest an author more focused on pleasing himself than his readers. Percival Everett by Virgil Russell has multiple three-page paragraphs and one-page chapters.
It would be wonderful if Percival Everett’s last book, Percival Everett by Virgil Russell, were his best. Unfortunately, that is not the case. But Professor Everett was a great author. So even if his last book is not his best, its publication still gives readers an excellent window into a complex and gifted author.