Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Ibid: A Life

Ibid: A Life by Mark Dunn
MacAdam/Cage, 2004
Hardcover , 270 pages
ISBN-13: 9781931561655
very highly recommended

A life by inference is better than no life at all.
Dunn pushes his propensity for quirky to the limit, creating a full-length novel entirely upon the margins of a fictitious biography of Jonathan Blashette, as three-legged circus performer—cum—entrepreneur and humanitarian. When his editor loses the manuscript of this biography, he offers to publish the only text left: the footnotes.
Dunn holds up a funhouse mirror to the pedestaled residents of the twentieth century and has a laugh at the expense of the events and luminaries of an era that perhaps took itself just a little too seriously.

My Thoughts:

I have been looking forward to reading Ibid: A Life by Mark Dunn. It is the imaginative biography of Jonathan Blashette, a three-legged man. After opening with several letters between the author, his editor, and his brother, that explain what happened to the actual manuscript, the entire story consists of the endnotes (the use of "footnotes" is obviously a pun) to the missing fictional biography.

I found Ibid hilarious, and really did laugh out loud several times. It tackles, tongue in cheek, the addition of all sorts of real historical references while obliquely telling Jonathan Blashette's life story by inference, through endnotes. Using real historical references and people to tell the story made Ibid even more successful and accessible for me. Most of the endnotes themselves are quite funny.

While telling a story through endnotes seems like it might be awkward, I thought it really flowed smoother than most of my experiences in reading endnotes and was a fresh take on another way to tell a story. The fact that many of the footnotes were long and rambling segues added to the humor.

My one suggestion would have been to make some of the endnotes more closely resemble those you see in other biographies. Often biographers will discuss the problems with previous biographies or mention discrepancies between them - but that's a minor quibble. All in all, I really quite enjoyed Dunn's Ibid, although I also know it will not be a good choice for everyone.
very highly recommended


Dear brother Clay,

My editor, Pat Walsh, has just made an offer to publish the endnotes that accompanied my now tragically water-pulped biography of businessman Jonathan Blashette.

By themselves.

I am torn over what to do. These notes, while extensive, are still, by definition, subordinate to the lost text....While the notes illuminate the dusty crepuscular corners of this man's life, they tell its story only through sidebar and discursion. The book, therefore, becomes a biography by inference....

Publishing these notes by themselves allows me the opportunity to examine the role that each played in the man's life, in ways that I could not in the original text. There is a certain freedom here-stitching as I am upon the fringes of that life the kind of piping that usually defines the whole garment.

On the other hand, can the cloth of a man's life truly be defined by it's embroidery?" pg. 5-6

5. And yet on the whole, Jonathan was generally well-regarded and with the help of friends and family adjusted easily to his unique anatomical circumstances. Several years were to pass before Thaddeus Grund arrived with his invitation for Jonathan to join his Traveling Circus and Wild West Show... pg. 10

7. Lutherfurd, however, lingered for days, his ultimate expiration well attended. No one among the cluster of friends and relatives who attended Lutherfurd at his deathbed seems to be in agreement as to just what constituted the old man's last words. I have listed some of the more colorful contentions....

According to Benjamina Tasslewhite: "The light. It shimmers so beautifully Look! Look! The arms of my Redeemer are open and beck--!"

According to Rev. George M. Plint: "Satan, I come to you now, the bargain fulfilled." pg. 18

4. Memories of a merry Christmas, however, were marred by an unfortunate accident. According to family historian, Candida Isbell Loring, it is unlikely that the story is true. Given the personality profile she has pieced together of Jonathan's Great Aunt Harriet, it is doubtful that the old woman would have simply lain without complaint beneath the fallen Christmas tree and waited patiently for her presence to be detected. She would, in all likelihood, have bellowed without recess until rescue became assured. One can only subscribe to the truth of the prevailing account by accepting the theory that the ornament lodged in her mouth made the broadcasting of her whereabouts a futile endeavor... pg. 26-27

7. "I think she likes me." Young Jonathan misinterpreted the wink. Little "Annette of the Skies" was victim to periodic blepharospasm, or spasmodic winking. Jonathan later suspected his error after catching the prepubescent trapeze wonder winking at a draft horse. Joseph Alksnis-Lochrie, "Childhood Under the Big Top," Calliope: The Magazine of the Circus 12 (fall 1957):37-38. pg. 39-40

The Man of 1000 Responses Jinks Nyberg will offer bare-tongued rebuttal and rejoinder to all comers. Then he will do some long division. pg. 48

6. Jonathan displayed a knack for making easy friendships with some of the other students. Jonathan befriended even the terminally friendless among the residents of Orville House. This group included Jiminy Crutch, a mestizo who lived in fear of squirrels, and thus found himself constantly confronted by them in his bed, wardrobe, and dresser - placed there by the more mischievous among his dormitory mates. Young Jiminy won abundant sympathy and support from Jonathan, who encouraged the quaking, stuttering young man to shake hands with his fear and turn it to become the nation's foremost expert on squirrel aggression, and in 1941 was awarded the prestigious Van Weems Small Mammal Research Prize for his paper on the infamous 1826 Hamilton County, Indiana, squirrel migration - an aberration of nature that residents of Noblesville still speak of today. Contemporary accounts note that thousands of squirrels one morning decided to move en masse across the county. Swimming like otters across the picturesque White River, and foraging voraciously along the way, the squirrels were met by angry club-wielding farmers at every turn. The devastation wreaked by the two-week rampage took months to repair. Cordell Glover, Three Legs, One Heart, 45-48; Belva Curry, "On the Move" Sciuridae: Journal of the American Squirrel, 1952, No. 4, 366-75. pg. 71-72

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