|Alan Michael Parker by Felicia Van Bork|
What joy to find a novel that's exactly right. You're skimming through. First, the pages turn to
silver in your hands, then to gold. You know it's the real thing. Delight breaks out on your body, and you must put the book down for a few seconds and simply breathe.
Such is "The Committee on Town Happiness" (Dzanc Books, $14.95), a third novel by the poet Alan Michael Parker of Davidson College.
"The Committee" is 99 linked episodes (voice steady as hummingbird wings) laying bare the absurdity of committee-think and the elusiveness of happiness. A spoof, of course. An existential satire with ribbons of magical realism. It reminds me of one of my all-time favorite novels, "Mrs. Caldwell Speaks to Her Son," by the Nobel-winning Camilo Jose Cela, in which Mrs. Caldwell writes letters to her dead son Eliacim proclaiming her great smothering love for him. The tragedy in "Mrs. Caldwell," is, of course, that Eliciam will never read the letters, and mother and son will never be reunited. The tragedy in Parker's novel, if I must spell it out, is that "town happiness" is impossible to achieve.
The Committee on Major Financing convened, decreed its lack of jurisdiction. The Committee on Animal Safety made recommendations in light of the incessant barking. The Officer of Public Generosity deployed new azaleas. Two committees folded for lack of a quorum. We set a watch, deputized three teens. We made private overtures. We unsewed our shrouds.
As though day were night we went to sleep and rose to the falling darkness, to eat and work and play. We moved throughout our darkened town.We would see the fuss. We would learn what we were missing.
We want to say that we have succeeded. Soon we will do away with walking around and not knowing.