Monday, January 19, 2015

Eric B. And His Steinbeck Comeback Mission
In his only work of political satire, The Short Reign of Pippin IV, John Steinbeck turns the French Revolution upside down as amateur astronomer Pippin Héristal is drafted to rule the unruly French. Steinbeck creates around the infamous Pippin the most hilarious royal court ever: Pippin’s wife, Queen Marie, who “might have taken her place at the bar of a very good restaurant”; his uncle, a man of dubious virtue; his glamour-struck daughter and her beau, the son of the so-called “egg king” of Petaluma, California; and a motley crew of courtiers and politicians, guards and gardeners. This edition includes an introduction by Robert Morsberger and Katharine Morsberger.

Eric B. says: 
"In my unofficial unauthorized and unorganized mission to revive interest in John Steinbeck, I here remind readers of his only political satire and, happily, one of his comic novels, albeit one with serious thoughtful underpinnings. I find as I read more deeply into this author that his consistent interest in the dynamics of human society and culture informs all his work, at least so far as my experience counts.

Pippin Heristal is an ordinary enough French gentleman interested mostly in amateur astronomy and the more-than-occasional tipple. He is, however, the last remaining heir to the line of Merovingian Kings of France, those who preceded Charlemagne. The country is experiencing one of its periodic political upheavals and the multitudinous factions who wish to exert influence gather to decide what to do. It is suggested that the monarchy be resurrected for reasons too complicated for me to explain but humorous enough for anyone to grasp. Imagine the Left Centrists versus the Right Centrists at odds with the Christian Atheists, the Christian Christians, The Christian Communists, The Communists, the Socialists and any number of other groups who aspire to power all wrangling at length over what form the government should take and discovering that they all agree on one thing: a king can be manipulated, excoriated, utilized, or supported for whatever reasons the individual organizations feel are in their best interests. Who are his advisors? Do his edicts have to be followed to the letter? How can his ascendance to the throne be “spun” to the greatest advantage? The mild-mannered Pippin seems to be the ideal candidate and is placed, reluctantly, on the throne. He has his own ideas, though, and these become the reason for his downfall and ultimate triumph.

Steinbeck spent much time in France and grew to love the country and its people. In the volatile political climate characteristic of the French, much fodder for satire presented itself, and Steinbeck gathered it in and expanded it to resonate on a more international stage. His trenchant observations about the goings-on at the highest levels furnish an uncannily accurate portrait of our own times and the influences exerted. The waffling of professional politicians, the pernicious, insidious grip of the corporations, the apathy of the general public; does it sound familiar? His notions of how the Russians, the British, the Americans, even the North Koreans would react are eerily contemporary. Again I say, we need to read this man. He has a lot to say to us.

Pippin is, of course, a mildly comic character who has the fundamental flaws of being honest and thoughtful. I am reminded of Francois LeLord’s Hector, the gentle and forgiving psychiatrist of Hector’s Search for Happiness or Jerzy Kozinski’s Chance Gardner, idiot savant of the jardin in Being There. An innocent who knows not what mayhem he has wrought with naivete and benevolence tempered with conscience. This book should be read if for no other reason that the sheer pleasure of it. It’s amusing, meaningful and contains some very nicely crafted characters and situations. Give it a shot."

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