Review by Sue Lange (New York, NY United States)
Peter Dabbene is a funny guy. His subtle sense of humor shows in this collection of well written short stories. Consider the name of the book: Glossolalia, which means speaking in tongues. Some people consider glossolalia to be nothing but meaningless drivel, others believe it’s a holy language, understood only by the enlightened. Dabbene’s work might very well be understandable only by the enlightened; there’s a lot of stuff here, sometimes you get it, sometimes you don’t.
The first part of the book, the Glossolalia section, is a good example. Each story is a parody of a famous something or other. The first, The Last Detective Story, is an homage to, or teardown of, Raymond Chandler. The detective here is named Philip Marlowe, but it’s not the Philip Marlowe we know. This Philip Marlowe is a new detective that changed his name to Philip Marlowe because Marlowe is his idol. He’s a down-on-his-luck private dick, trying to make his way in a world that no longer needs him. Surveillance is done now with new techniques and the Internet. You know longer need to hoof it around town to do research, but that’s the kind of detective work our Marlowe does. Our Marlowe is living in an office in Manhattan and he drinks a lot. He’s broke but finally gets a contract to find a missing heiress. Someone young and pretty. Against all odds in a city of 7 million, Marlowe bumps into her in a record store and they fall in love. Sound familiar? The Last Detective Story is not so much about Philip Marlow as it’s about Raymond Chandler and the rules of detective stories. Well done!
Like the Marlowe story, the others in this section seem to be channeling some icon of our literary heritage. But exactly what they are isn’t always obvious to me. `Mother Russia” feels like Judith Merrill’s “Only a Mother.” The Houdini story has a character named Steven Crane. What does that mean? What’s the connection? “The Man Who Cried Death” feels like a Poe story, but I’m not sure why. Only until we get to the final story in the section, “Metmorphosized” which is so clearly a Kafka do is it obvious that each of the stories has something to do with some classic of literature. But it’s up to you to figure it out. It’s not obvious.
These stories all have a knowledge of, or maybe allegiance to, pop culture, past and present, and its place in our modern lives. We have stories of Houdini, Orthodontia, World War II, the Russian version of Mickey Mouse, hemmorhoids, Ikea, and a fabulous set of three that take place around the time of W’s second election called The Rocklester Files. They’re columns written by one Rocklester Chase, Republican Party cheerleader. Hilarious.
Dabbene is at his peak with the parody in the story “Sirs,” a Mad Magazine romp starring superheroes Anthony Hopkins, Michael Caine, Ian McKellan, Sean Connery, Ben Kingsley, Paul McCrtney, Mick Jagger, Elton John, Billy Graham, Rudy Giuliani, Steven Spielburg, and some guy named Louis Gerstner. They’re all knights, even the Americans, hence the name of the story. Their mandate? Battling deadly movie set crime such as the directing style of that no-good baddie Robert Altman. They go about their super heroing using aliases created from characters they’ve played or written songs about. For instance Michael Caine is “Alfie,” Ben Kingsley is “Ghandi,” and Mick Jagger is “Devil.” Since Giuliani isn’t a TV, movie, or rock personality, his alias is “Rudy.” It’s a very funny send-up of superhero stories and mass culture schmaltz, lampooning the people we idolize because they bring us this crap.
Glossolalia contains modern stories about modern life and our cultural icons. Our icons say a lot about us and they shape us. Dabbene does a great job of saying a lot about our icons.