A Novel Review: The Blind Kangaroo
By Jessica E. Lapidus
Tenzin McGrupp's third novel, The Blind Kangaroo, is by far, his most profound work to date. In an email written to friend Jerry Engel, McGrupp says,
"I think (The Blind Kangaroo) is my most mature novel yet. I have tried to shy away from some of the outlandish sexual connotations and explicit drug use of the first two novels..."Indeed, McGrupp's first two novels, Jack Tripper Stole My Dog, and Sweet Nothing, revolve around over-the-top sex scenes and heavy drug use. The Blind Kangaroo breaks away from that formula. For the first time in Tenzin McGrupp's novel-writing career, he concentrates on strong character development. Not to say that the characters from his other novels aren't strong, but those from The Blind Kangaroo are the most diverse.
The Blind Kangaroo tells the story of a week in the life of "The Norwegian Nightmare," Orsino Fletcher, a 30-year old, former college and Olympic hockey player. In this week, Orsino, known to all simply as Fletch, learns about life from a bathroom book about Buddha, realizes his own purpose, and learns how to let go. He spends time with his girlfriend, Ophelia, and comments on society and its morals (or lack thereof) via his fellow Catholic high school alumni and a through visit to Hollywood, full of realization and revelation.
Others of McGrupp's critics have mentioned that the women in his stories are "either pregnant, crazy, or both." In The Blind Kangaroo, his main female characters - Cordelia, Juliet, and Ophelia - are all different, and each complex in her own way. Ophelia is Fletch's younger girlfriend. It is clear from the beginning that they have deep feelings for each other, but both are too guarded to express them. The underlying tension that comes through in their dialogue and other relations is apparent through the telling of Fletch's story. Ophelia's friends, Cordelia and Juliet, are perfect compliments to her and each other, and the three make a charming triumverate of feminine wiles and female intelligence. In one scene, where Fletch is driving to Foxwoods with two of the three girls, he and the bull-headed Cordelia get into an argument, and Cordelia holds her own. In McGrupp's previous novels, the female characters were so constructed that they might have backed down when confronted by the verbal strength of men the likes of Ivan in JTSMD and Winky in Sweet Nothing. But as I smiled with glee at the barrage of insults flying between Fletch and Cordelia, I realized that in Fletch's world, he would have had no idea how to handle Kelly and Baby from the aforementioned works. Cordelia, Juliet, and Ophelia, in the ways in which they interact with Fletch - and with each other - are perfectly tailored to the setting and mindset of The Blind Kangaroo.
In McGrupp's other works, short stories and novels alike, he always seems to be striving for a grand symbolism to be represented by locale - the seedy underbelly of New York City in Jack Tripper Stole My Dog and the white trash life in both Seattle and Alabama in Sweet Nothing - or by characterization. The Blind Kangaroo is not lacking this symbolism, but it seems to be a lot effortlessly illustrated, and much more subtle. In the story, Fletch is struggling with his history as an Olympic hockey player, the fame of which seems to be a haunting burden to him, while for others, it is a mark of local and national pride. Fletch hides from it, while every other character in the story, it seems, is striving for his or her own recognition. Ophelia is a struggling actress, many of his fellow high school alumni have made or are trying to make names for themselves in the world, and even the people Fletch meets on his trip to Hollywood seem to be searching for themselves, for their place in the world - or at least at their parties.
Aside from the complexites of McGrupp's female characters, the other players in The Blind Kangaroo are also exciting and different. While some of his fans may argue that the locations and the characterizations are semi-autobiographical, McGrupp admits that his characters are each an amalgam of people he has known and met in his life. Most of the characters get the time they deserve, and when we've seen the last of them (in this volume, at least), the timing of their departure is perfect. The one character who doesn't seem to linger long enough is Adriana, the personal assistant to Ophelia's Hollywood-producer father, Duncan. Adriana is the most developed character with the least face time. She appears only in the last two chapters of The Blind Kangaroo and while the story covers it's points in its seven, full, comprehensive chapters, Adriana's presence makes the case for the continuation. I recently spoke with McGrupp, and he tells me that there is a chance that we will see Adriana again, perhaps in a story of her own.
Another character who makes a far too short appearance is Imogen, the Icelandic flight attendant who Fletch meets while living in Denmark. The story of the relationship between Fletch and Imogen takes place in the past, and the way McGrupp tells the story is with love and passion. The telling of the tale of their love affair seems a moment of calm in the whirlwind of Orsino Fletcher's life. Their story and its aftermath barely lasts a whole chapter, and leaves the reader wanting more from Imogen and the passionate affect she has had on our hero.
The final two chapters are set in Hollywood, where Fletch puts into practice the things he has learned from reading the bathroom book about Buddha. He speaks honestly and candidly with Duncan, Ophelia's father, and also with Ophelia, to whom he finally opens his heart. The major concept of Buddha's teachings is to let go of all attachments, and that is exactly what Fletch is able to do by the time we get to the end of the week. He goes from being hung-up and obsessed with his fame, to being free of its implied burdens, and getting down to what is important in his life: respect and love. And keeping with the theme of strong women, the one who seals his realization is Ophelia, who points out,
"...as much as everyone is focused on the Norwegian Nightmare, you always took the time to tell me how lucky you were to be wherever, with the most beautiful woman in the room."Her statement speaks of the message in The Blind Kangaroo, which is appreciation for the things around you - from generously tipping a waitress to playing in the fall leaves in New York's Central Park - and having less attachment to the things in your life by which you have felt burdened, but that you know will fade just as the moments.
All in all, The Blind Kangaroo is, by far, Tenzin McGrupp's mature, real-life novel. It is not only about fame and celebrity, and the struggles therein, but also about relationships with others and with the self, and learning about life through life.
Jessica E. Lapidus is a writer from Jersey City. She is also the assistant editor of Truckin'.
Wednesday, January 14, 2004
A Novel Review: The Blind Kangaroo
Thursday, November 13, 2003
Thoughts from the author...
Here's an excerpt from an e-mail I wrote to my friend Jerry:
"I think (The Blind Kangaroo) is my most mature novel yet. I have tried to shy away from some of the outlandish sexual connotations and explicit drug use of the first two novels.... and tried to have more serious tone to the overall content. The characters are just as wild, but more real, in an attempt to expose certain themes like image, identity and fame. In that aspect, I think I reached an emotional level of maturity in my writing. I'm not writing just to write, because I actually have something to say in this one... mostly social commentary with regard to image.
I also found myself being more concise than I have ever been. I know when and when not to go off on a tangent. I guess reading a lot of Hemingway the last few months rubbed off on me! We'll see, Ithink some hardcore fans will not like this book as much as Jack Tripper Stole My Dog and Sweet Nothing (a.k.a. Baby & Winky), but it will be the best written book of my short career... I just dont think it will be as popoular! Stay tuned!!!"
And of course, Jerry responded with this e-mail:
"You may be surprised by you readers; because, they (we) are growing as readers the same way and may appreciate the different approach and maturity. Hey don't get me wrong, I love the sex and drug-capades - but I think you are noticing that you can get there without explicitly telling us how. I am very excited to read the new one - and still discuss Sweet Nothing."
Tuesday, November 11, 2003
The first chapter of The Blind Kangaroo is over 15,200 words. There are seven chapters in all. Act I of the novel is Chapter 1 and that's it!
Bone Fragment #2
Here's a second excerpt. Enjoy!
I imagined Adriana sipping a huge fruity cocktail in a trendy L.A. bar like Little Pedro's Blue Bongo with a slew of other assistants, all worn out from a long day of being a lap dog to the stars, sharing their bad days and ranting about their famous employers.
"It was 3 AM and he wanted sushi," one young guy with slicked back hair and a perfect tan moaned.
"That was nothing! It was 4 PM and he wanted a hooker. We were in the middle of the Redwoods on location, and he demanded that he wanted his cock sucked in between scenes. You know hard it was to get a hooker to come all the way out to the middle of nowhere like that? Those fuckin' Baldwins," a fellow jaded assistant added before she downed a shot of tequila.
"I had to get her fucking dog the perfect outfit for a stupid pool party. It was a nightmare. I had to take forty-seven different outfits on and off her fucking poodle," Adriana mused.
Daily Word Count
Day 1: 5827
Day 2: 4767
Day 3: 7887
Day 4: 4849
Day 5: 6371
Day 6: 5002
Day 7: 5814
Day 8: 7579
Day 9: 5425
Final Word Count: 53,667
Bone Fragment #1
Here is the first excerpt for your enjoyment:
I had never been to Aruba before, but I imagined it was warm, had lots of sun, palm trees, and sandy beaches with crystal blue waters rolling up on the shores where scantly clad women drenched in oil tanned themselves, and tons of little islands kids with big bright smiles, in yellow t-shirts and aqua shorts, ran around trying to sell tourists trinkets and other useless souvenirs. Somewhere on the island there was an office cooled by high ceiling fans, with a fat goomba cast-off from the Sopranos, flipping the remote control on a series of televisions with different sporting events.