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Memories of My Father Watching TV
By Curtis White
Dalkey Archive Press; 157 pages; $12.50



Curtis White undercovers social truths by the light of the television set

By Harvey Pekar

CURRENTLY THERE'S NO support for innovative fiction writers. Nevertheless, San Lorenzo native Curtis White, who now teaches at Northern Illinois University, displays plenty of literary daring in his new book, Memories of My Father Watching TV, expressing both the horror and the amusement that American culture inspires in him. He has set up the chapters of Memories as very funny parodies of '50s and '60s TV shows like Bonanza, Sea Hunt, Combat and Highway Patrol. In "Bonanza, the Wild Father," a takeoff on a primordial force-of-nature man, the father tells us how he got where he is: "Well, it's all in the diet: canned-beef tamales, Dinty Moore beef stew, sardines in mustard sauce, potted meat, lots and lots of nondairy cheese products like Velveeta and Cheese Whiz (eat the Cheese Whiz straight from the aerosol container); SPAM (don't cook it)."

White's scathing indictment of American capitalism has a hallucinatory quality, and it's absurdist in the tradition of William Burroughs, Joseph Heller and Terry Southern. Although he ridicules a few specific products and companies, he also employs a subtler strategy. By using humor to point out the mind-numbing potential of television, he hopes to lessen its effectiveness. His art lies in creating an alternative to the prevailing lockstep of TV dramas. He's sorely needed now, when the left is so cowed.


Curtis White appears Oct. 21 at 8pm for a booksigning at Printers Inc. in Palo Alto.

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From the October 1-7, 1998 issue of Metro.

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