three-and-half-stars
Bookmarks Issue: 
11-July-Aug-2004
By: 
Mark Dunn
user_rating: 
0

A Life

A-IbidWhen a careless editor’s bathroom accident destroys the biography of Jonathan Bashette, all that survives are the footnotes. Fortunately, they speak volumes about his life all by themselves. In random snippets, we learn about Bashette’s unusual life, from his three-legged birth (which launches a circus career) to his soldiering during World War I where he discovers his true calling: deodorant manufacturing. This "biography by inference" chronicles Bashette’s bizarre careers, marriages (three, one of which ended when his wife drowned in molasses), encounters with 20th-century celebrities like Aimee Semple McPherson, and ruminations on the Yankees, Alcoholics Anonymous, and life in 20th-century America, where anyone, apparently, can make it.
MacAdam/Cage. 269 pages. $22.

Rocky Mountain News 4 of 5 Stars
"In trying to categorize Mark Dunn’s latest attempt at ‘redefining the American novel,’ one would have to place it in some pretty variegated company, possibly as a cross between Winston Groom’s Forrest Gump and Tom Robbins’ Even Cowgirls Get the Blues." Eric J. Blommel

Charlotte Observer 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Readers wanting straightforward escapist fiction will not be happy with this book. But those who appreciate intellectual playfulness will enjoy this imagined history which could have taken place only in America, but didn’t." Pat MacEnulty

Grand Rapids Press 3.5 of 5 Stars
"Ibid is the kind of history we all would have liked to have read: sloppy in places, irreverent in others, replete with missteps and do-overs, downright funny and occasionally tragic, but ultimately engaging. Dunn’s novel is a remarkably fresh take on an occasionally tired genre that reminds the reader the telling can be more important than the story itself." Mary Ann Sabo

Critical Summary

Dunn, author of the award-winning Ella Minnow Pea and Welcome to Higby, has written a highly experimental and brave work of fiction. Who would think that a novel of footnotes could be so fascinating? But this look at how one life shaped and was shaped by 20th-century America is. As befitting its format, Dunn offers no cohesive narrative of Bashette’s life. Instead, citing fictional books like Ringleader: A Life in Circus Management, he offers humorous, often tragicomic, views into Bashette’s life for readers to piece together. Parodies of famous speeches and literature add to the fun. Warning: neither the humor nor the format will please everyone, and Bashette’s jumbled life remains just that: jumbled.

Also by the Author

A-EllaMinnowPea.epsElla Minnow Pea | Mark Dunn (2001): Dunn’s wordplay began in his first novel, about a town that starts outlawing letters of the alphabet. Illegal characters subsequently disappear from the novel as well.