Thursday, September 8, 2011

The Feather Merchants

The Feather Merchants
© 1944 Max Shulman
145 pages
From Max Shulman's Large Economy Size, 

Sergeant Dan Miller, supply clerk extraordinaire, is home on furlough -- and leave to him to get into more trouble in one night than he's found in months of service during the greatest war in history. It all started when he and his best buddy Sam strolled into a local tavern and had a little too much to drink and start making slurred speeches in Elizabethean English which *slightly* dramatize Dan's role in the war so far. By the time he crawls out, Dan has bought a car, possibly gotten engaged, and is scheduled to single-handedly blow up a bridge in town to commemorate the opening of Minneapolis' munitions plant. Oops.

The Feather Merchants is an absurdist drama in which poor Miller is railroaded into the trap of having to meet impossible expectations. He tries and tries to get out of it, but of course he can't -- the city of Minneapolis expects their local hero to do his duty and blow that bridge by himself. So he commits to doing it, and of course nothing goes to plan. It goes fantastically horrific, actually. It's a kind of sitcom plot, but funny all the same. As in some other Shulman works, the humor lies not in the plotting but in the writing: characters launch into bizarre speeches which have nothing to do with anything at all (or so you think) and leave the main character frustrated at their uselessness, and the dialogue is...well, 'zany'. There's also much bawdiness.

As usual, something of a riot.

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