International Writers Magazine: Reviews
by Kirby Olson
Black Heron Press, 2006, 219 pp.,
A Charlie Dickinson review
is the story of a determinedly bland Seattle slacker, Millhouse
Moot, who has reached middle-age and through a series of unchallenging
temporary jobs keeps life simple, free of relationships, and satisfyingly
irresponsible. For solace in his lonely and largely meaningless
life, Moot turns to literature and philosophy. As he relates in
his voice of ascerbic wit, he is a very minor, yet published poet.
This, of course,
is only the opening premise for what turns out to be a comedic romp
venturing out globally to points east and west of Seattle, where anti-heroic
Millhouse inevitably gets goosed by the complications of Life.
Despite his philosophic acceptance and rationale for being a 40-year-old
slacker, Millhouse sets part of his quest to reform in motion by going
to see a psychiatrist to talk about how his life might work better.
The shrink, a no-nonsense, pragmatic woman, hears out Millhouse, then
tells her teetotaling Lutheran client, who's never had a relationship
with the opposite sex, he needs to do two things if they are to continue
talking: Get drunk and get laid.
With an assist from his friend Billy Whims, another temp with literary
ambitions, Millhouse manages to get drunk, but despite a trip with Whims
to a Hong Kong bordello does not get laid. Also in Hong Kong, Millhouse
sees what must be the love of his life, the Finnish Liisa, performing
there with a Finnish circus. He recognizes Liisa as a Finnish student
in the Seattle university where he works and for whom he carries a torch.
If the introduction of the love interest seems farfetched, that is only
the beginning of Millhouse's screwball comedic quest, taking him to
grad school, to Finland, to an appointment in academia, to marriage,
to fatherhood, and to ownership of a circus. Throughout his quest, Millhouse's
antagonist and rival for Liisa's affection is a circus midget clown,
who is also his university boss, Marcel Nations.
Though the plot of TEMPING has some bizarre premises, Olson's satiric
targets in this novel are apt and lend themselves to a comedic take:
temporary work, academia, and the ascendancy of conservative government
in such historically liberal nations as Finland.
But TEMPING is more than satire and for all its comedy is about the
maturing of Millhouse Moot and how he finally learns something not even
his shrink knew.
Millhouse by the novel's end can let go of his Lutheran piety (never
really sincere, more a default position), can let go of his cynical
self-protective stance toward the world, and can say after waiting more
than forty years, "Better to have loved and won, than not to have
loved at all."
It is worth noting Evergreen State College alum Kirby Olson has taught
philosophy in both the United States and Finland and is married to a
woman with the good Finnish name of Riikka, with whom he has three children--seemingly
all autobiographical elements that knowledgeably inform this intensely
funny first novel.
© Charlie Dickinson June 2006
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