Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Alexander Theroux's "The Secondary Colors": Book Review.

"Color is fictive space," Theroux reflects in this companion book of essays to his on blue, yellow, and red as "The Primary Colors" (also reviewed by me on this blog in the immediately preceding entry, as well as on Amazon US.) The sections on orange, purple, and green, somewhat surprisingly, seem even more detailed than those on the previous hues. They're also even more free-associative in their range.

The book therefore reads more smoothly than "Primary." I'm surprised that there's even more pages in this volume, given that you'd expect red, yellow, and blue to weigh in with greater literary, religious, artistic, erotic, psychological, and musical references. Somehow, once again, I have no idea how, Theroux amasses a prose-poem's three hundred pages of reflections on eager to please, oafish, optimistic, if garish orange, regal and sensuous purple's pomp and resonance, and green's natural hues, that open us vividly to our surroundings.

Typically for readers (like myself, who recently reviewed "Primary," and his fiction "Three Wogs" and "Laura Warholic" here and on Amazon) of his stories, this author engages in a formidable presentation of his wit. He's a skilled translator of Latin and Spanish poetry, even if he leaves a lot of the French in the original! His vocabulary's rather tamped down by his erudite standards, but this helps us along. He's less intrusive as he guides us along his mental trains of thought.

Hearteningly, Theroux keeps his eye out for cant. It's intriguing to find that all three colors feature prominently not only in the fine arts but the invective of "race music," gay subculture, and Catholic iconography-- three of the author's many interests. The book's generally well-paced, although there's a rough edit from the time he takes to correct an unnamed novelist's (I wish I knew who) critique of Theroux's own supposed misogyny, followed by a jump back to blue and yellow's combination. Anyone would be challenged, nonetheless, to arrange the mass of information with any less care than he has.

He cuts down the puerile "poetaster Jenny Joseph" with her insipid "When I am an old woman/ I shall wear purple," nods to thousands of mentions of orange across the edible and visible spectrums, and glides through tangents devoted elegantly to green in all its guises.

Minor slips emerge; his vast erudition prevents me from finding out many, but he misspells Cyndi Lauper's first name twice, and claims Rusty Staub played for the Montreal Expos back in 1964 (rather than 1969-71 and '79). The World's Fair there had not even happened 'til '67; the team started in '69. He also, puzzingly, in one sentence, errs at least twice. He places Jim Jones in "Ghana;" he asserts that Jones shot himself. (He possibly miscounts the total casualties, although I'll grant him leeway as this number has been disputed.)

Such human slips may be inevitable in a book so crammed with data, musings, memories, and critiques. They may make the book a bit more accessible; even Theroux nods! And, as he notes with these three colors near his end, they, in their secondary status, manage to become all the more inviting next to their predecessors and progenitors! Read these evocative essays and find out why.

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