Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Something Gorgeous by Junior Burke

Something Gorgeous from Farfalla Press/McMillan & Parrish 2005. 389pp. ISBN 0971466890.
This is the first novel from playwright/songwriter Junior Burke--published through a small press in Boulder, CO. Burke takes the title from The Great Gatsby, which he also uses as a reference point in many portions. For readers unfamiliar with F. Scott Fitzgerald's work, some allusions won't appear as important as they should. However, there is no need to reread Gatsby as it will not reveal much hidden meaning in the story.

Burke's version takes place in the 1920s with settings as farspread as Germany, Kentucky, Chicago, and of course Great Neck, NY. The central figure of the novel is Ritz--a pseudonymed womanizer who lies his way into business and personal deals. He is accompanied by his love interest Faye--a high-class Kentucky girl. There are also a few historical figures to go along with the fictionalized--there is Harold Meyerstein bootlegging liquor during prohibition and post-WWI German nationalist Eckhart, with whom Ritz makes bootlegging deals to make his fortune.

Keeping with the Gatsby theme, Burke's characters are mostly unlikeable sorts and only serve the purpose of being interesting. The most likeable of all is Judith, a professional golfer, who helps Meyerstein with some "errands" on her rounds through tournaments. Even though they are an unlikeable bunch, they occasionally have redeeming qualities in their frail emotional states. Burke manages to develop the characters so that their personalities fit--even if you wouldn't want to befriend any of them.

The novel contains a few songs, originally written lyrics from Burke, that fit with the time period. Much of the language makes it clear that he is a songwriter with a musical style in his prose. His descriptions of places and events are vivid--attributed to a long list of resource materials and travels.

Through it all, Burke keeps a consistent tone that fits the time period and class of the characters. He provides the seedy moments of high-class life of the Jazz Age that many writers of that time were reluctant to portray. It just goes to show that after 80 years more details of life can be made public in literature to create a gorgeous work of historical fiction.

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