Pages: 481 kb (eOriginal)*
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Eisenhower lived in a white house and screwed the unions. You'd never catch my dad even once calling him "Ike." Eisenhower was president, but Nixon was always skulking around in the background like a cartoon weasel, up to something, probably screwing the unions, too.
Nothing I can say, to introduce Malachi Stone, will speak louder than this photo. Nobody knows much about him except that he's apparently a lawyer, somewhere in Illinois and that he's been writing novels for a long, long time. Also, I had no idea what I signed up for when I decided to read his novel WICKED KING DICK, an acid-laced picture of white picket fence America. The title refers to Richard Nixon, who's political life parallels protagonist's Johnny Wolfe's coming-of-age and was, in some regards, responsible for it. This point is admirably well rendered by Malachi Stone, despite the chaotic nature of his novel. WICKED KING DICK is a great novel about the slow and painful death of the American Dream. It's written in a style that will require all of your reader's stamina, but not without rewards.
The story follows Johnny, who's life follows the ups and downs of Richard Nixon. First as a child, as his dad is a violent opponent to the Eisenhower/Nixon duet, at the White House. Then as a student in the seventies where Johnny falls in love with Beth Trajan, a socially engaged student who protests vehemently against the Viet-Nam war and the politics of the now President Nixon. Finally, as an adult, working for the carnival and trying to put in perspective the life he lived under Wicked King Dick. There are three Johnnys and the novel is sewing them together, page by page as you witness a happy childhood turn into a turbulent youth, turn into a life of drifting, as a result of the important social and political changes of the sixties and the seventies. Why has little Johnny run away with the carnival? You will find the answer by reading WICKED KING DICK. It's not as simple as it looks.
I'll be honest, this is a rather complicated novel. Malachi Stone deliberately messes with the pacing and the different timelines of WICKED KING DICK, which is a rather bold challenge to the readers. Chapters and timelines vary in length, so whatever your expectations are of a conventional novel in terms of characters and plot, most likely you will not find it here. Fluidity and seamlessness are two things I love about a good novel and I can't say I found any of this here. The showstopper in WICKED KING DICK is really the superposition of Nixon and Johnny's lives, which made the infamous president into this powerful ghost that undermined the lives of his people. He's a looming threat on every page. His decisions have effect on the lives of every characters, but especially Johnny.
For my first year at college I enrolled as an Undecided Freshman and wound up majoring in Beth Trajan. Beth Trajan seemed everything that Maggie Paderborn was not: a wickedly intelligent, liberated, arrogant and intensely desirable girl-woman, Beth would invariably correct me-from the Northern Suburbs.
Many names came up to my mind, for comparison, while reading Malachi Stone. David Foster Wallace, still frantic and comical from THE BROOM OF THE SYSTEM years, Chuck Palahniuk, John Irving, Timothy Leary. In fact, the most accurate comparison I can give you is that WICKED KING DICK reads like A PRAYER FROM OWEN MEANY, written on a severe magic mushroom trip. Replace the saintly midget friend by a ghastly, demonic puppeteer of a president and you have one of the most unique, perplexing and challenging novels out there. There is a fan base out there, waiting to find Malachi Stone. Literary buffs, adventurous readers and more analytic folks will devour his books. WICKED KING DICK isn't exactly the type of novel you want your friends to discover literary writers with, but consider it a master degree seminar. Exhausting and enjoyable. Endearing and yet surprisingly complex. Malachi Stone makes you work for it, but delivers the goods.
* Honestly, I don't know if this ever had a paper release. I don't think so, but Malachi Stone's a veteran writer, so maybe.