by Gore Vidal

Duluth CoverWhere to begin with this one? It’s not even that I have a hard time expressing my opinion of Duluth––it’s really good––but I find it difficult to explain why I found Vidal’s surrealist satire as enjoyable as I did. And, even though I walked away with such respect for the story and its author, I understand that not everyone has the same appreciation of such off-the-wall absurdities as I seem to, that making it all the way through Duluth will be a huge chore for many, but I highly recommend at least trying it. For, completing the task definitely brings with it rewards for the careful reader, in the shape of clever writing that is oftentimes laugh-out-loud hilarious.

Duluth, the “Venice of Minnesota,” according to its mayor, Mayor Herridge––Mayor being both his first name and title––is a city full of corrupt cops and politicians, dangerous criminals, and a spaceship that came mysteriously one day and has not yet opened. Duluth, the story, concerns many characters with disconnected, but interweaving, storylines. Darlene Ecks, a policewoman, spends most of her time in the Mexican ghetto, strip searching and humiliating illegal immigrants. The rage from her victims sows the seeds of a terrorist organization, whose members seek revenge on Darlene and Duluth’s elite. The mayor plans to use this group to discredit Captain Eddie, the chief of police and his opponent in the upcoming election. Meanwhile, we also get treated to the goings-on in Duluth’s high society, a literary battle between an illiterate author and a famous plagiarist, and the mystery of both the aforementioned spaceship and an unknown figure who appears to be influencing events behind the scenes.

What really makes Vidal’s story special is the little touches, giving his characters personality with seemingly random details and humorous dialogue. He also showcases his knowledge of literature and the language by playing with common tropes, either taking them to absurd extremes or merely “misremembering” them. Far and above the most intriguing and confusing aspect of Duluth is arguably how death is handled, characters being transported to other stories or television shows after passing away. They retain their memories, and the new media they find themselves within often crosses over with the world of Duluth, where they can communicate with people there, when other characters, say, read their book or talk to the television set when they happen to be on the screen. With all this being explained, it shouldn’t be any surprise that it’s not always clear where the story’s going or why things happen the way they do, but it frequently strikes me as the author’s way of criticizing through absurdity. (And, given the breadth of topics and characters we encounter in his story, no one is truly safe from Vidal’s criticism.)

So, I really liked Duluth, but it’s many shades of crazy. I still suggest attempting it, but wouldn’t be surprised if many readers don’t end up liking it.