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Reviews Viva Max! By James Lehrer. (New York: Duell, Sloan and Pearce, 1966. 219 pages, $4.95.) Recently the novel—a constantly mourned genre that refuses to die— has seemed to enjoy its second adolescence. Finding itself free to unleash the full vocabularly and activity of various social and sexual sub-cultures, it has, with considerable attendant publicity, taken us on explicitly personal journeys into the cities of night. While the touted novel of our time has thus been concerning itself with bizarre aspects of a private world, other media—notably the film—have occasionally allowed us to laugh at our public selves, to see the prevailing concerns of our society in comic light. Perhaps the novelist has not cared much to run the risk involved in the topical spoof, the risk that one’s subject matter will rapidly become dated, that the peccadillos of today will be forgotten tomorrow. James Lehrer has been willing to run that risk in an engaging comic novel entitled Viva Max! Perhaps, after all, the novel can still show us, as handily as can the movie, how laughable is the disparity between our private dream and our public performance. If Viva Max! is refreshing in its approach, it is likewise refreshing in its technique, for Lehrer demonstrates that fiction can still be written without employing a first-person narrator. Lehrer depends heavily on dialogue in the creation of his scenes, but he moves smoothly and convincingly from place to place and from mind to mind as he builds a situation that begins with a single man and gradually involves a hemisphere. At all times operative is an incisive mind with just the right amount of detachment to allow us the comfort of judging without inculpating ourselves. The following passage, for example, suggests the tone as it describes the feature material provided by the national television networks during the gaps in the hard news of a national crisis: 148 Western American Literature At Northwestern they picked up the beginnings of a new dance, “The Maq,” which was similar to the Watusi, with the primary varia­ tion being the screaming of “Ole Max!” at proper intervals. A mambo, naturally named “the Maximilian Mambo,” was also caught in its formative stages at the University of North Carolina. Lehrer’s triumph is his central character, General Maximilian Rodriguez de Santos, commander of the Nuevo Laredo Garrison. Short and fat, Max, who has risen rapidly in the Army of Mexico, is a sort of Miniver Chavez. But to him comes an opportunity to gain glory for Mexico. Marching a hundred men across the border for a George Washington Birthday parade in Laredo, Max continues on to San Antonio in search of his grail, the deed to the Alamo. With the adroitness of the innocent, Max achieves success after success, each one leading to the discomfiture of someone whose embarrassment we relish. Lehrer’s satire bruises politics, the military, the press, the public relations expert, and the super-patriot. Even the President of the United States, nameless but curiously familiar, makes an appearance or two. Max takes them all in his somewhat waddly stride. Lehrer constructs a denouement that is worthy of the comic entangle­ ment Max precipitates. But the novel’s chief pleasure is afforded not by its happy plot, but by its affirmation of values that seem saner than those pre­ dominating in our society. It is a novel that celebrates “the little people, the ones who have always wanted to make that one big lunge, take that one step forward, but for one reason or another have never gotten around to it.” For this reason, I suspect that Viva Max! will outlive its topical references to become a classic of the comic Western American novel. James Lehrer was well advised to run the risk of departure from the mainstream of today’s fiction. May he sell Max to a sensitive film producer; and may he write more novels J o h n S. B u l l e n , Sonoma State College The Rocky Mountain West in 1867. By Louis L. Simonin. Translated and annotated by Wilson O. Clough. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1966. xiv + 1...


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pp. 147-148
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