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Time Remaining.

"People question me," comments Odette in this campy novel." |You were always smart, but how did you get to be so erudite?' Devors, for example, who really did expect to outlive everybody, said to me - not so long before she failed to do so - 'Darling, when you die, sur n'importe quel pretexte - it really will be as if a library has been burned down.'" And she goes on to explain, though one hears novelist James McCourt with his highly allusive, encyclopedic mind (especially on movies, gay life, opera, and Catholicism) as ventriloquist, "I read books." And not only books, but everything "from Tolstoy right down to the columns, the Prudence Penny recipes and even the pearls of wisdom on the tags of Salada tea bags."

Time Remaining is a long, witty reverie of gay New York from the fifties on. Delancey and Odette, the only two survivors of the opera-cultist group "Eleven against Heaven" celebrated in McCourt's first novel Mawrdew Czgowchwz (1975) - this is his third - reminisce in two separate but interrelated monologues about everything from Cardinal Spellman and the plot of All About Eve to Irishmen, infomercials, the Bowery Boys going to confession, the sailor suits of the Vienna Boys Choir, AIDS, and the importance, among other things, of the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress ("the fabulous gay category over the years since its inception"). The longest ramble by far is not Delancey's, a female impersonator, but the loquacious Odette's, formerly Danny O'Doyle ("I was Audrey Hepburn ten years before Funny Face. I was hearing, and believing, things undreamed of in America, even in film noir. In sum, my case had proved Dorothy Parker wrong: the whore had been led to culture, and been made to think . . .") and nowhere, except perhaps in Ronald Firbank, can be found writing more arch or wickedly precious. McCourt is a master of observation and obloquy.

There is no order to be made of the book, no chronology, rather open-ended chat, with much about movies and show business - parodies, mimicries, gossip, bookchat, with all sorts of catty dissing and dishing - in language peppered with French and Italian phrases and the kind of extravagant hyperbole associated with people like Tallulah Bankhead. The novel is about McCourt's teeming and multifarious mind, of course, a fascinating mind, rich and full of humor. Language is the real subject, and McCourt is so irrepressible, so charged, that in his excitement his prose tends to crowd itself the way Hart Crane's poetry does, exploding in many directions at once. But if Franz Boas's dictum that "language is culture" is true, then no better example can be found to prove it than in the unapologetic chant here told in the Queen's Vernacular and told so well.
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Author:Theroux, Alexander
Publication:The Review of Contemporary Fiction
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Sep 22, 1993
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