Monday, June 12, 2006
“I’m not making this shit up,
I’m imagining it.”
Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not, by Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, and Stephen Colbert, Read by The Authors, Highbridge Company, 2003
At the time this book was written, Amy Sedaris, sister to writer David, was probably the best known member of the three writer-performers behind the bizarre Comedy Central show, Strangers with Candy. Of her cowriters Paul Dinello and Stephen Colbert, it was the latter, later on Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show, then his own show, the satire of rightwing talk, The Colbert Report, who has moved into the ascendant. His recent showing at the White House Correspondents' Association Dinner, in a merciless skewering of both the President and the press has, if anything, increased his stock.
That flair for comic genius is on show here in Wigfield: The Can-Do Town That Just May Not, the three writers’ novel about a small town that just might not even be a real town. When you put three comedians together, you most commonly get some kind of sketch comedy, and that’s what we have here, tied together by a supposed writer who is writing a profile of the small town about to be disbanded when the local dam was scheduled for demolition. Sedaris and Dinello take turns portraying the dirtbag denizens of Wigfield while Colbert plays the kind of ethics-free, self-absorbed fake journalist that is now his full-time gig.
In situations like this, the common assumption is that each writer wrote the bulk of the lines for their character, with some assistance from the others. Thus in a town like Wigfield, with its string of clubs with names like Twat Shop and Tit Time, Sedaris plays a number of women of easy virtue, while Dinello picks up the DJs, the bouncers, the customers, and all three of the town’s competing mayors. Wigfield is also the kind of town with two competing oldest resident, neither above the age of fifty, and an art scene for which the term "dying" would imply more life than it really has.
Settled at the foot of the completely useless Bulkwaller Dam, built so as to demonstrate “our country’s ability to construct monolithic concrete structures in the midst of adverse conditions,” Wigfield’s residents are seeking from the government compensation for their losses when the dam is blown. We likewise learn from an informational pamphlet that the dam was designed as to be “a structure so magnificent that it rivals any creation that God has put on this earth, thereby causing angels to weep with the knowledge that our Savior has been bested.”
Russel Hokes, our unscrupulous narrator, has a dream, to write a book “like a sword of swift justice in service of the truth, but in an easy-to-read, highly marketable way.” But first he needs “an idea and a healthy advance.” In one scheme after another to pad out his manuscript to the golden requisite fifty thousand words (including at the beginning of each chapter the heading “One – Chapter One”), Hokes interviews members of the “town;” quotes liberally from the local paper, court transcripts, high school poetry, and “off the record conversation[s] that I thoughtfully recorded.”
Along the way we meet out of work employees of the shut-down plutonium ditch, strip club managers and employees, the local Wiccans, the owner of Mack Donalds, each of Wigfield’s mayors (including the brain-damaged Charles Halstead, a fudge fanatic man-child kept in power by “appointed” pyromaniacal chief of police), the psychotic town taxidermist/morgue attendant (“One of the things I do over there is to make sure that all the bodies that come in are dead. Here’s my test: I just do things to them that no living being would allow, and if they don’t react, then I know they’re dead. And if they do react, well, the severity of the test usually makes that moot.”), among others.
“And of course there’s those stories about the Wigfield maniac, how there’s a madman in town, but I don’t believe it’s real. I think somebody’s killing folks just to scare people,” as one resident puts it.
The town’s fortunes take a possible turn for the better when the local State Representative convinces the authorities to blow up the dam, and all of the citizenry hope to cash in on sizable handouts. When this plan runs into a snag, as the town has no articles of incorporation, no sewers, sidewalks, real streets, or facilities, when it becomes clear through court testimony that they are not a real town but a collection of shanties filled with nutty squatters, the “citizens” of Wigfield are promised absolutely nothing. A tenderhearted judge provides them with a stay of execution to prove themselves an actual community, and Hokes convinces the town members to hold non-stop parades and public functions to prove they are indeed part of America’s small town fabric, leading to the novel’s climactic bit of hilarity.
Each author takes his or her turn narrating the various characters, Dinello and Sedaris demonstrating a keen knack for accent, characterization, and delivery, while Colbert provides us with the kind of quick speaking double-talk that is his hallmark. “In short there was no downside, but at what cost?” he asks at one point, then later, as the court case begins: “I have to say, the idea of the legal system being fair and impartial always rang a little hollow to me, considering the number of times I woke up in handcuffs.” The three of them together provide something a little different from the average audiobook, a project that comes off as part book, part play, and wholly entertaining.
Posted by The Critic at 6/12/2006 11:56:00 PM