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232 Nabokov Studies Donald Harington. Ekaterina. New York: Harcourt, Brace. 373 pp. $24.95. Mediocrity imitates, it has been said, but genius steals. That being true, what is one to make of the thief who incessantly flaunts his theft? Is he perhaps a little too anxious to be acknowledged as a genius? This uneasy question is never entirely absent from the mind even of a reader who is enjoying himself with Ekaterina, Donald Harington's immensely entertaining romp through the transplanted imagination of Vladimir Nabokov. The blurbist, with his usual eye on the commercial main chance, alerts one to the Nabokov connection, calling Ekaterina "a playful and masterful homage to Lolita," which is the one novel by Nabokov that the general audience might know and the one, especially if it is not known, that is most likly to excite some useful prurience. The blurb, however, is unfair to Harington, whose novel is indeed an homage to Nabokov, but not to any single masterpiece. It is an homage to Nabokov's imagined worid and above all to his way of imagining it. Harington makes rather little in fact of the obvious switch—that the female eponym prefers her sexual partner to be a pubescent male. One lesson of the master he has emphatically not learned, namely that sexual encounters depicted as they might be in a training manual, with all the dirty words left in, are very like porn flicks—instantly arousing and just as instantly boring. Nabokov's Kama Sutra takes place behind a verf of diction su chaste tliat it would not be out of place in Beatrix Potter. Speed-readers miss most of it altogether in their haste to find the expected action. But Ekaterina resembles Lolita most of all in this: that it is not about sex at all, but about art. It is about what most concerned Nabokov and every genuine artist the miracle that there should even be a parallel universe, that created by the imagination, to accompany, amuse, and console those who must live in the one created by God. Lucretius, in the opening lines of his epic De rerum natura (On the Nature of Things), acknowledged what every genuine artist has also known, that the genetrix of both worlds is alma Venus, nurturing Love. In that sense, any work that is about art begins with the miracle of love. Harington was born in Little Rock, Arkansas. He taught art history here and there, never holding an academic job very long and winding up his career more or less in disgust at not being able to manage anything more distinguished than desperate visiting professorships in places like Pittsburgh, South Dakota, and Rolla, Missouri. He went back to Arkansas, where the principal locus of his storytelling is a town in the Ozarks that he calls Stay More, and where he has also written non-fiction books on local topics. Ekaterina is one of those up-to-therminute novels with large chunks of undisguised realia built into it Harington himself is there, anagrammatized a Ia Nabokov (who included himself as Vivian Darkbloom, and so on). There is a review from the New York Review of Books and an interview from the Paris Review, both reproduced in the unmistakable original typography. Well-known people play cameo roles, some of them partly disguised. A former student of mine named Oscar Swan, formerly Chair of the Slavic Department at Pittsburgh, Book Reviews 233 was amused when I wrote to tell him that he figures as "Hector Schvann" in the novel. There is no way to summarize the preposterous plot, and anyway, I would not want to spoil your fun if you mean to read it. But to establish the minimal bona fides that a reviewer needs, here are some observations. Ekaterina herself is a Soviet dissident, the descendant of Georgian royalty, who has been brutalized in one of the notorious psychiatric hospitals of the former USSR. The villain of the book, one Bolshakov, was her evil doctor and is now pursuing her as Nabokov's Quilty, Gradus, et al., pursued their victims. She is a professional mycologist (her mushrooms stand for Nabokov's butterflies) and hangs onto visiting professorships...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1548-9965
Print ISSN
1080-1219
Pages
pp. 232-233
Launched on MUSE
2010-10-13
Open Access
No
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