Last Song and Dance
Last Song and Dance, by Christopher Woods, calls itself “a darkly comic satire of all that is held dear.” It definitely feels like a satire, but, on what, I’m not sure. The assurance of death is also a recurring theme. We’ll discuss that more later.
Last Song and Dance follows Cy Sullivan, a failed alcoholic author, who has returned to his hometown of New Middletown from years of exile, scandal, and disgrace, not in triumph but to kill himself. He has one week to write his masterpiece, “Curse of the Blue Nun,” which cynically follows the seven-day structure of The Book of Genesis. Sullivan’s sloppy manuscript makes up the majority of the book’s text. Sullivan states his fiction is inspired by his own shortcomings, life in his mythologized hometown, and the crazy world we all inhabit.
“Curse of the Blue Nun” is largely incoherent, made up of surreal, drawn-out passages that I found myself simply glancing through on more than one occasion. The Sullivan character openly admits its shortcomings. His manuscript, which he writes with (not on) his typewriter, Clarabelle, follows Albert Slothpick, a perpetually unscathed drifter who goes from job to job, and a nun who seeks to raise the dead to wreak havoc on man, that is, people with penises.
Overall, Woods’ novel is absurd, tedious, laugh-out-loud funny, horrible, and genuinely thought-provoking—all at once. There is a slight commentary on drug addiction and religious hypocrisy, but Woods’ comedic nihilism prevents the work from taking itself too seriously. And in true, stream-of-consciousness fashion, the references to other pieces of fiction, including the works of William Shakespeare and James Joyce, and William S. Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, are never-ending.
The dramatized version of New Middletown also reminds us of the unnamed town in Alejandro Jodorowsky’s The Holy Mountain where the tourists take in the savagery of man.
Last Song and Dance is Woods’ first published novel. It is an extremely visual work and cinematic in nature. Having been 61-years-old at the time of its completion, the author clearly wrote it as a meditation on the inevitability of the end. “Nothing is real everything is true,” he writes to his unrequited love, Stephani, who, along with other long-lost loves, inspired the novel’s badass gang of Wild Girls. Woods accepts he will never reach the heights of the artists who inspired him. He only wishes, like all of us, perhaps, to be seen “flickering but for a second or two” somewhere beyond Polaris, even if you need a telescope. I think he succeeds.