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• • • How H.S. Keeler Wrote Certain of His Books

If the multimedia onslaught of the Marceau books suggests an unhinged U.S.A., then The Mysterious Mr. I and The Chameleon (back in print after over 60 years, thanks to a small press called Ramble House) weigh in as a lower-brow Ulysses. For “ineluctable modality of the visible,” read “$100,000 reward!”; for a single Dublin day, an October 13 Chicagoland of 22-word newspaper headlines and meticulously rendered humor-magazine offices. Our hero, the ne plus ultra of unreliable narrators, gives a different name (med student George Spelvin; guest lecturer Scopester Glendenning) to everyone he meets; the catch is that even the reader can’t pin down his identity. Like an amphetamine Penelope with her daily shroud, he builds up each persona, only to unravel it a few minutes later; Keeler, master of the web-work, reads best when he seems to be falling apart.

* And, perhaps, sharing the proto- Oulipian orbit of Roussel. According to Mark Ford’s Raymond Roussel and the Republic of Dreams, “While on one level the procédé reveals all words—or fragments of words—to have potential double meanings, on another it imposes on them the strictest possible laws of connection.” The Marceau books hinge—or do they?—upon a single line of a manuscript, which reads: “ ‘Blimey, ‘Erb! Little?’ Lu Caslow’s dreary eyes”. Is the culprit Meyer B. Li? Or a midget funambulist named Little Lucas?

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For more information on all things Keeler, visit the Harry Stephen Keeler Society.

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