Happy Talk

If the late, great William Gaddis decided to haunt a guy who was possessed by Joseph Heller, that guy would be Richard Melo. How else can one explain Happy Talk? There has to be some dark, supernatural force behind this dialogue-based satire saturated in humor and wit.

It's 1955, and the United States has sent a wild assortment of New York filmmakers to Haiti to produce a film about the island featuring the new sport of surfing--in order to create a new tourist mecca. There are actually no waves; however, the bureaucratic overlords are so obsessed with their plan, they push the filmmakers to absurd lengths, which garners the attention of locals and some strange voodoo competition.

The film crew's ringleader, with the Pynchonesque name of Culprit Clutch, is madly in love with a nursing student named Josie. Sent to a special nursing school to learn how to handle nuclear Armageddon, Josie and her fellow students have been forgotten by their Washington contacts and have turned to a farcical Lord of Flies way of life. These heavily armed anarchist health-care providers, the Nightingales (as they are called), find kindred spirits in the oddball filmmakers, and we get M*A*S*H-like pranks, Catch-22 exchanges and some divine comedy. But the love between Josie and Culprit, as well as the merrymaking of the group, are put to the test by voodoo and a power-hungry evil doctor.

Unabashedly hilarious and thoughtful in the way post-modernism used to be, Melo writes imaginative action sequences, delivers wonderwork prose and captures the voices of his characters like a fine tuned medium. Happy Talk is a rare feat--experimental and a joy to read. --Christopher Priest, marketing manager, Shelf Awareness

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