Richard Condon | Critical Review by Jay Cantor

This literature criticism consists of approximately 4 pages of analysis & critique of Richard Condon.
This section contains 967 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
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Critical Review by Jay Cantor

SOURCE: "Whatever Leila Wants …," in Book World—The Washington Post, November 29, 1992, p. 9.

In the review below, Cantor analyzes the plot of The Venerable Bead.

Even in the more than 10,000 words The Washington Post has provided for me to review Richard Condon's new novel, The Venerable Bead, I couldn't possibly summarize the plots within plots that Condon invents in order to reveal what is really already happening to us, those open secrets and purloined letters that are the nightly news.

Leila Aluja, our main character (or should I say characteroid, or center of narrative interest?), is first of all a secret agent for the international security firm that runs the recently privatized FBI, CIA and KGB. In her efforts to crack the Albanian spy network that runs Hollywood talent agencies on behalf of the Communist Chinese, she becomes a movie star; and then a pop queen; and then a powerful Washington lawyer-lobbyist for the NRA and the Mafia; and then a public relations czarina who pre-sells easy-win wars to keep the Pentagonfive-sided; and then a fast-foodmogul of pre-cooked haggis, tofu pizza and other delights; and then she goes on the trail of a yogurt that will make us live nearly forever, so the planet will split its sides laughing; and then … and then … and then. All these doings are recounted with sly digs, word play, an amiably mean ragtag style and a sufficient number of brand names to make you gag on what you are already daily swallowing.

Leila isn't (but in this sort of world who could be?) a rounded character with whose loves and losses you identify. She is, rather, the floating center of a delirium of fantasies that we call ours, though they are as pre-sold to us as the wars whose heroes then stalk our pre-fab dreams. In our personal and national fantasy life—or so Condon avers—we are an amalgam of tabloid elements, and The Venerable Bead is a snappy sample of that internal film strip, until in the last judgment (and this deeply moral book provides one) we see a country, perhaps ours, that has become a serial of sinister plots, populated by personalities that are themselves made (like Leila's) of false memories and programmed desires that don't belong to us, things we've "seen on television or read as headlines in The National Enquirer or in one of those commercials with soap opera plots." And so "from the ten thousand things she had heard or imagined about other people while her past was dying, she had built a memory." Which memory is this book, or, I guess, this newspaper, which will then become a part of your and my seemingly personal memory.

That all seems about right to me on a bad day, so it is perhaps not the whole truth, or how would this novel have gotten written? Still, was it Condon, author of The Manchurian Candidate and Prizzi's Honor and many other novels, who also wrote the Watergate Cover-Up and Pat Buchanan's speech at the Republican Convention (which was no doubt a Demo dirty trick)? Was it Condon who, on a sour day, scripted the election that just was, in which (but could this really have happened?) the president of the United States—called Goodie Noon when he appears in this novel—appeared on a television talk show with a wide-suspendered host, and implied that his opponent, Gov. Bozo Waffle, had been programmed in Moscow to take deep cover as a good old boy, become president of the United States, and invite his old bolshy comrades (who knew that the jig would soon be up for them in the U.S.S.R.) to high U.S. government positions (like head of the National Rifle Association), where they could transfer our assets to already bulging Swiss bank accounts? Did Condon invent Skadillionaire Uncle Scrooge Perot, who accused President Goodie Noon of sneaking LSD into the punch bowl at his daughter's wedding to Sean Penn?

Which is to say that The Venerable Bead, which reports Condon's (or his allies') other doings during the Reagan-Noon years—and delivers the goodies on the movie business, the public relations firms that now schedule our wars' victory parades in advance, the NRA, our also murderous fast food, and the last opera buffo minutes of the communist conspiracy—has a hard time keeping up with the excesses of our current events. Almost forcing sentences like my last one to go on and on excessively, like Condon's delightfully excessive plots, trying to keep ahead of the curve, taking on an increasingly shrill tone as the engine of outrage goes into overdrive when (for example) the Brady Bill (named by Condon—or was it someone else?—for a man who was shot in an attempt to assassinate his best friend, conservative Ronald Reagan) is nixed by the conservative NRA, which in this outrageously outraged novel (or is it real life?) has bought the Congress, lest our constitutionally guaranteed right to commit murder ever be abridged.

This adds to history the kind of irony that at one time only novelists provided. Any engine might whine from the pressure of trying to keep up with such history. Or perhaps (as Condon himself implies) the shrill sound we dogs sometimes hear is the screams of souls in torment, in this case particularly our main character, Leila Aluja, who finds as she dies that her memory "bobbled like a cork upon a chaotic sea of deals, money, power, celebrity, sex, television, greed, and politics, the tarnished threads of the true flag. She relived what she had been trained to dream but had never seen, lifetimes flashing past in nanoseconds … She remembered her life … which was the price she had paid for her constant betrayal of love and trust. Suddenly she knew where she was. She was in hell."

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This section contains 967 words
(approx. 4 pages at 300 words per page)
Buy the Critical Review by Jay Cantor
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