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The Journal of Literary Satire | Hastily Written & Slopilly Edited
Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An American Casanova in New York, by Balthus Poindexter: A Reading Group Guide

  1. Describe Pontius Boulevard. What kind of a character is he? Is the reader allowed to get inside his mind, or is it difficult to discern what he’s thinking? Can anyone tell what he’s thinking? Does his name sound to you a bit like “pompous blowhard”?
  2. In a work of fiction, an “unreliable narrator” is one who the author expects the reader to understand has a different perception of events from the way in which they actually transpire in that fiction. Sometimes, though, authors themselves can be highly unreliable. Does Pontius Boulevard seem unreliable? Does the author, Balthus Poindexter? Do they both seem like men you shouldn’t trust any further than you could throw them? Explain.
  3. The title of the novel, An American Casanova in New York, refers to Pontius Boulevard’s romantic adventures, or misadventures, or outright catastrophes, over the course of two months in Manhattan in the summer of 1979. However, since New York is part of America, isn’t the title embarrassingly redundant? Don’t you think someone besides an editorial assistant might have noticed that?
  4. “It had never happened to Pontius before—the sudden softness where ferocity was required, the limp sadness when he needed the hot turgidity of youth. Was booze to blame? The ravages of time? ‘I’m so sorry,’ said Pontius. ‘I … ’ ‘Don’t,’ interrupted Mona, grasping his quiescent manhood. ‘Never apologize,’ Mona whispered. (Or was this Beulah? Ah, perhaps this was the cause—retribution!—some vengeful goddess eking penance for his gallivanting sins.)” (p. 142)

    Do you believe that this is the first time Pontius Boulevard hasn’t been able to get an erection?

  5. An “anachronism,” in a work of fiction, is a part of a story that could not yet have occurred. This includes technological details, such as every character having a cell phone in a novel that’s set in the Carter era, or cultural ones, such as a protagonist drinking Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers backstage with Soul Coughing, neither of which existed yet in 1979. Do anachronisms take you, as a reader, out of the novel? Do they make you wish you’d never bought the novel in the first place? If an editorial assistant kept sending the senior editor in charge of a particular title more and more urgent memos about this sort of thing, don’t you think she ought to have paid closer attention?
  6. “And so it goes; so we all graduate from the college of love with a B.A. in broken hearts, perhaps retreating back to the parental basements of our first crushes, perhaps moving on to the deluxe apartments in the sky of our adult romances, perhaps buying the American dream homes of our marriages. For what are our hearts, but the mortgage lenders of the soul?” (p. 325)

    What did you think of this passage in Chapter 15? If you actually read this passage, how on earth did you manage to make it so far into this piece of garbage without hurling the book into the crapper?

  7. Among novelists, it’s a generally accepted “trick of the trade” that if an author is basing a character on a real person, he or she needs to change most, if not all, of the identifying details about that person, such that the character will be completely unrecognizable. But sometimes you’ll be reading a manuscript you’re assisting on at work and be horrified to discover that a character, such as, say, Maggie—Pontius Boulevard’s love interest in the first part of the second half of the novel—happens to make a noise in bed that’s disturbingly familiar to you (“As Pontius drove them both onward and upward, her cries mounted, rose, and peaked, much to his surprise, like the squeak of a rapidly rubbed balloon” (p. 287)). Do you think that might make you feel humiliated?
  8. In Chapter 10, Pontius Boulevard confesses to Maggie, before they are ever intimate with each other, that he has a shameful disease. It turns out Maggie has the same disease; they are relieved at the coincidence, their love is deepened, and they proceed to have loving, squeaky, non-infection-spreading sex. In reality, however, some people don’t bother getting around to telling their partners about their gonorrhea infection until after they’ve been screwing you for a week. Why do you think that is? Would you not be surprised if this kind of person also turned out to be the type who begs and pleads to just “stick it in for a little bit” before putting on a condom?
  9. In publishing, it’s the ultimate responsibility of the editor in charge of a particular title to sign off on the galley proofs and authorize the printer to go ahead with the initial run. But in later, less glamorous editions of a title, such as, say, a reading group guide edition, she might just totally bail on a book for a week of golfing in Bermuda, leaving the files in the hands of her editorial assistant, who she calls “overdramatic,” and who hates her. Do you think editorial assistants are completely overworked, underpaid, and exploited? Does this seem like an “overdramatic” way for a girl to get herself fired?
  10. As mentioned in Question 7, sometimes authors base their stories on experiences they’ve had, or people they’ve known, in real life. They might deny this in interviews, or even in frantic phone calls and e-mails, but the literary term for a novel that makes heavy use this device is a “roman à clef.” You know, this question doesn’t really have anything to do with that, but fuck it, here goes: if a famous but washed-up middle-aged hack stops by the offices of his publisher late on a Friday to drop off the first half of his manuscript in person, because he still hasn’t figured out computers, thus forcing an editorial assistant to have to transcribe it, for which the author offers to make it up to her by buying her a drink, which turns into a bender, which she doesn’t remember too well except for waking up in his apartment on the Upper East Side Sunday morning, which then turns into a week of drunken, thankless lovemaking (that is, the few times the inscrutable blowhard is actually able to get a rise out of his gray-haired and wrinkly old cock), which keeps the editorial assistant from work half the time, and thus from transcribing the hack’s novel, which nearly costs the editorial assistant her job, is the cost of the antibiotics to clear up the clap the old man gave her, three weeks later when it drips and burns like a motherfucker every time she pees, too much for an editorial assistant to ask? Discuss.
Thomas Hopkins lives in New York City, is a professionally published writer, and is known throughout the professional publishing world as "The Architect of Fictional Gold Medalists." Do you yearn for fictional gold medalism? Do your fictions crave top-flight professional publishing's proven strategies? Are you hungering for the deep secrets of the inside scoops? The legendary Thomas Hopkins shall lead the way!