Praise for the First Edition of “The Life and Times of Halycon Sage
Bushnell introduces one of the world’s most enigmatic writers in this metafictional debut novel. Halycon Sage is a man of mystery, to the world and to himself. Halycon Sage is a pen name he pronounces “HAL-i-con,” which leads to plenty of confusion. The writer’s true identity is a source of continual speculation, much of which is spurred by misdirection placed in the media by his own editor. Another source of controversy: whether or not Sage is truly the Great American Novelist, especially considering his novels are generally no longer than a short paragraph and should not be considered novels at all. Contradictions surround Sage like the tumbleweeds of his youth: he is simultaneously famous, influential, anonymous, and poor.
To get back to his roots, he embarks on a journey into the heart of America, riding atop his motel-sleeping, TV-watching horse, named No-Name Stupid. Attempting to find himself at the intersection of religion, ethnicity, and art, Sage encounters a menagerie of critics, thinkers, outlaws, and spies, all while hammering out his own oeuvre of iconoclastic minimalism. Is it genius? Is it nonsense? Sage may be the last person to know. Bushnell shares her hero’s compulsive brevity: the book is only 140 pages, though nearly every one of them is involved in the metafictional project of this “found” manuscript. It’s a madcap novel, leaping and lurching with a frenetic energy reminiscent of mid-1960s postmodernism.
The satire is broad—a famous reviewer decides whether or not he likes new writers by using a dartboard—yet charming; the silliness is infectious, and Bushnell never pauses in any one place long enough for boredom to set in. Bushnell is an undeniable writer, with a talent for sentences and scenarios. “His urbanity was all surface,” she says of a critic who has just been discovered in the back of a limo and is now shrieking for oysters, “a thin, thin earth’s-crust over the red-hot lava of his petulance.” The mystery of Sage’s true identity is perhaps not as compelling as the story wishes it to be; in the end, though, it might not matter.
Intriguing, if imperfect, comic novel.
The Life and Times of Halycon Sage or The Last Book Ever Published
“This is a deliciously funny and witty satire of the literary world.”
Karima Vargas Bushnell satirizes the literary world and many other targets in her deliciously funny fiction The Life and Times of Halycon Sage or The Last Book Ever Published.
Halycon Sage (pronounced “HAL-i-con”, not “Hal-sea-on”) is a writer who has made an unlikely success of himself by writing very, very short novels. As he embarks on a journey of soul searching (with the concurrent goal of saving the world), his story becomes intertwined with many other equally eccentric and entertaining characters. Among them, there’s an Iraqi immigrant who, unfortunately, harbors a love for aviation and gardening (including the use of fertilizer), which makes him a prime target of federal authorities; an Eastern European named Alexander Preisczech, who is baffled by the way supermarkets seem to call his last name over the loudspeaker; and No-Name Stupid, Halycon Sage’s horse, who has a mind of his own, and uses it quite effectively.
This book is more about the journey than the destination. The tale is a clever, wild mixture of lowbrow and pop-cultural humor. But there’s also a spiritual element woven throughout the story that, even with the humor, comes through as sincere. Every character is on a quest for fulfillment of one kind or another, and it’s easy to root for them on their journeys. There are some nice “extras” in the book as well, from informational and amusing footnotes, to an appendix that includes a fake high-school term paper analyzing Halycon Sage’s novel One Hundred and One Cows—complete with the teacher’s comments written in.
The prose is clean and, more importantly, delivers the jokes with a droll sensibility, as when Preisczech, futilely searching for Halycon Sage, wakes suddenly:
“Halycon Sage, where are you?” he cried from the depths of his soul.
“Shaddap, ya moron,” came the response from down the hall. It was true, what his
parents had told him. To every question, there was always an answer.
Bushnell herself boasts a variety of experiences, serving as director of the Light Upon Light Sufi Center in Minneapolis, and having worked as a college professor, refugee/immigrant job counselor, and more. In The Life and Times of Halycon Sage, she’s successfully channeled those experiences, weaving a variety of outlandish personalities and points of view into an entertaining, fast-moving novel that is nearly guaranteed to provoke laughter.
The Life and Times of Halycon Sage: Or the Last Book Ever Published
In an Afterword, the author of this brief comic novel says she wrote the book’s second half in two days. That likely explains both its rough edges and its improvisational charm: The Life and Times of Halycon Sage has the stirring immediacy of a guitar riff.
Karima Vargas Bushnell’s title character . . . is an interview-averse writer cloaked in mystery. The public wonders if he’s Native-American. He’s consumed by his aversions to machinery, consumer goods and bureaucracy, but devoted to his horse, No-Name Stupid . . . Bushnell playfully makes him out to be a genius who dispenses his vast philosophical knowledge and desire to save the world in famous minimalist “novels” that run only a few words or paragraphs. Sample title: “Boo Radley Goes Hawaiian.”
Bushnell’s own prose is witty and lively. At the funeral of an Indian, Sage observes: “The ‘prepared’ dead people he’d come across before looked like slightly decadent wax dolls getting ready for a hot date, but this body was like a charged battery, conveying not only peace, but energy.”
Bushnell sends Halycon Sage alone into the Nevada desert, away from junk mail, TV and greed, but not far from a benign biker gang, or from those who would unravel his myth: a pompous literary critic named Basel Vasselschnauzer, the batty Eastern European inventor Alex Preisczech and a villain, Niemand Kompt. Sage’s quest? “To use insight, and the magic of words, to get (people) to stop killing each other and abusing the animals and destroying the earth.”
Bushnell clogs the book’s flow a bit with superfluous minor characters such as an al- Qaeda fighter and a Mossad agent, but her vision remains pure. The director of a Sufi center in Minneapolis and sustainable living advocate, she and Halycon Sage both imagine a harmonious post-industrial utopia. It’s a beautiful idea, lovingly expressed.