Tuesday, April 25, 2017

John Andrew Fredrick's "Your Caius Aquilla": Book Review

In this elegant but pocketable edition, passionate bibliophile Michael Ross has curated 106 favorite literary quotes from the collection of over 1500 well-read books on his shelves—but this isn't your typical rehashing of Bartlett's quotations. Michael Ross brings together men, women, love, sex, money, and death from such a new perspective even the authors themselves will probably find this book useful and insightful. 

This musician-writer-professor revels in wit. His pair of The King of Good Intentions novels enlivened the indie-rock scene in Los Angeles in the 80s, while his band The Black Watch continues to make spirited and smart rock.(Start with his newest album released around the same time as this, The Gospel According to John.) For Your Caius Aquilla, John Andrew Fredrick plunges into an earlier era filled with corrupt politicians, windbag pundits, and callow military men determined on imperial domination: "We enslave the ones we don't like so they can have the privilege of living or loving Rome." So laments the titular protagonist, whose letters to his wife back home in the capital comprise the first half of this entertaining tale. Caius is fighting what his spouse Lora agrees are but "admittedly superfluous barbarians," and he itches to come home to his family and especially her.

The barrier to this reunion is the extended tour of duty, as there are always more miscreants to kill off. Battle scenes are conveyed with Rabelaisian verve and Joycean excess. It's told in a chatty, slangy prose that runs together. Think of Roman inscriptions carved without punctuation or breaks.

However, these headlong blocks of text go on for pages. They can overwhelm the reader. I recalled C.S. Lewis' advice in taking in poetry. Not to slow, but to keep pace, to hear the voice race forward.

Halfway in, Lora's responses begin to fill the tote bag back to the front, or so it seems. The twist I leave to you to find out, but this fiction does reveal in JAF a heretofore occluded display of his erotic energy. From this point on, the shift in tone and content spurs one to the conclusion. In the manner of clever narratives, the author keeps you turning the pages, wondering where Lora's candor will wend.

Along the headlong way, nods to Proust, Hamlet, Aristophanes, the Life of Brian, The Autumn of the Patriarch (at least for me in the refusal to indent), The Tin Drum, Goodfellas, The Smiths, and (not only for the tennis product placement) David Foster Wallace appear. So do the pleasantly antiquated terms such as roisterer, cove, and rodomontade, from the period the professor specializes in way back

It's fun to think of the couple's son Aurelius complaining about lessons with Cicero, too. "I don't want to have to be so logical all the time." This attitude also infuses these pages, And humor is welcome in these parlous (same as it ever was) times. I end with one of the many lively phrases JAF offers. For all the intended cliches ("just sayin'"), the originality (at least to me) of such as "an apple that looks like your great aunt after she's fallen asleep in the bath" linger as testament to JAF's inventive talent.

Yes, it ends suddenly. So did the first installment of "TKOGI." That makes me wonder if more is in the offing from Caius A. After all, it worked for Robert Graves' Claudius chronicles. (Amazon US 4-23-17. Book's website. And, author's website.)

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