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Reviews of Keeler Novels from KEELER NEWS


By Fender Tucker

“What’s the best Keeler to start with?”

That’s the question I’m most often asked in e-mails from around the world. They’ve seen the Ramble House web site and all of those wacky Keeler titles, and of course, they’re intrigued. Who wouldn’t be curious about The Man with the Magic Eardrums? Or The Skull of the Waltzing Clown? But there are so many titles—which one should be read first?

I usually answer them: Sharkskin Book, Transposed Legs, Travelling Skull, Thieves’ Nights, Mysterious Mr. I/Chameleon, Marceau/X. Jones, Skull in the Box books, Cagliostro, Seven Sparrows, Y. Cheung, 16 Beans, and the coup de grace, The Box from Japan.

The important thing, I tell them, is to make sure not to read the wrong Keeler first—as my wife did—because it may put you off Keeler forever. Let’s face it, it may not have been just the conspiracy against Harry by the evil publishers of the 50s that accounted for his inability to get published in the US. Part of the problem may have been his tiresome adverbs and long, dialect-filled passages.

Hence, this book. In a way it’s a continuation of A To Izzard: A Harry Stephen Keeler Companion, which Ramble House released last year. It will help you plan your future Keeler life so that you read the best stuff first—when you’re in the throes of a Keeler honeymoon giddiness—and save the gawd-awful stuff for when you’ve become such a jaded Keeler nut that you keep a spreadsheet of all of the instances of “izzard”, “fakealoo”, “moue”, “non est” and “sepulchrally” you encounter in Keelerland.

Everything in this book was taken from the Dead Sea Scrolls of Keeleriana, Richard Polt’s Keeler News. In its 42 (and counting) issues is the motherlode of information about our favorite webwork novelist. This book attempts to snatch from Keeler News’ pages the best reviews and articles written by the brainy souls who haunt Richard’s Harry Stephen Keeler Society. If you read this book—and why not A to Izzard, too?— you will not end up like my wife, sworn never to read another Keeler adverb for the rest of her natural life. Instead, you will know much, much more about the mysterious Harry Keeler and will be able to decide for yourself how your literary madness will progress.

Don’t take my word for it! I have a unique view of Keeler because by bringing all of his published novels back into print in the past three years, I’ve had to read each book three or four times in a row, mainly looking at the punctuation. So far the only physical side effect from all this is a tendency to drool while asleep. Mentally, the damage is probably permanent.

Instead, read what real readers with real brains have to say about selected Keeler books. Readers like Francis M. Nevins, Barry Warren, Richard Polt, David Nessle, Geoff Marriott, Eric Stott, Adam Groves, Ed Park, Eric Thorsen, Nick Kimber and Don Webb, and the beloved Anthony Boucher. These clever people have done it the right way: they’ve taken a Keeler book, read it through, thought about it, thumbed back through it, gotten an “angle”, and written a review of the book for us fortunates to read and enjoy. And you won’t believe the high-powered references you’ll find in the reviews! Vladimir Nabokov, Thomas Pynchon, Anthony Boucher, that Proust guy. It’s obvious: Harry Stephen Keeler is no hairy Stephen King.

I learned a lot by editing this book. You will, too, even if you’ve already read all of the Keeler News issues. Some very perceptive deconstructions of Harry’s babies inhabit these pages. Use this as a guidebook to further journeys into the Idiots’ Valley of Keelerland. There are cliffs, swamps (with man-eating starkeyfish) and perils aplenty in the dozens of Keeler manuscripts which Ramble House will be publishing in 2003 and 2004, but let Wild About Harry be your Tenzing Norgay and someday you may be able to look down from a literary Everest and say, “I did it. I read every damn novel Harry Stephen Keeler wrote. And thanks to the excellent reviews, I saved the worst till last. Now let’s head down. Hows about a piggyback, eh, Tenzing?”

There’s no particular pattern to the book, other than reviews of Harry’s books are first, followed by reviews of peripheral subjects. Most of the reviews start off with graphics showing the nifty dust jackets in gray scale. On the left is the jacket design for the original edition from the 30s or 40s; on the right is Gavin L. O’Keefe’s design for the Ramble House editions. In laser color, on the slick jacket paper we use, they are spectacular, and worthy of collecting in their own right.


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