The Greatest Lover Of Last Tuesday
By Neil McKinnon
Book Review by Ed Tasca
Neil McKinnon blessedly answers for this writer the mysterious mathematical enigma: whatever happened to male-female comedy duos. The answer seems to be that they’ve gone literary, and appear as the two principal characters of Neil’s new book, The Greatest Lover of Last Tuesday.
Alberto and Adriana are the literary progeny of George and Gracie, Nichols and May and Stiller and Meara, not to mention our perennial comedic favorite, Adam and Eve – all with material provided by another great comedy team, Masters and Johnson.
Octogenian Latino, Alberto, has filled his life with a serial phylogeny, and has claimed more grievances than a small claims court and just as many false oaths. His journey into the past is a search for meaning in his sexual history, his failure to find love and, by extension, his aimless, pleasure-seeking existence. It unfolds as an odyssey of oddball sexual encounters peopled with eccentric characters in hilarious situations. Alberto shares with us and Adriana, his boar stud’s depth of understanding of these encounters with comic notices such as: (concerning sexual protocol) “it is inappropriate… for a man to begin (sex) before the woman is present.”
Adriana, the provocateur, antagonist and counterpart to Alberto has figured romantic shenanigans all out. Her worldly wisdom is sharp, biting and lucid; and, during their many quiet meetings and spicy chats, she persists throughout in pinching Alberto’s cheek with spiteful, mischievous affection aimed at trying to clue him on the gender politics that elude him.
This work is more than “satire.” I found it a layered confection, based on the comic idea that you can guffaw over human sexuality, while at the same time attempting to deconstruct and explain its silliness – the sexual and romantic floundering, naiveté, hypocrisy, myths and illusions.
The book is structured as individual episodes, each telling of erotic adventurous or romantic encounters or struggles (either reminiscent or contemporary), from the ecstatic to the unrequited to the pitiable. The prose overflows with a piercing intelligence, memory-etching insights and observations; and troves of clever images, metaphors and analogies. Mind this one: Alberto explains after one of his failed flings: “I was left with no purpose… paralyzed by the notion that I was destined to perform the same role porn does for the eunuch.” The writing rolls and bounces over lines like these page after page.
Regrettably, as this reader tried to lock on to some empathy for Alberto and Adriana, the writing bombards throughout with the command not to take any of this seriously. Character names and local place names are self-contained jokes. Adriana punctuates conversations with playful insults by addressing Alberto as “you puerile prognosticator” or “wrinkled astral body” (he does the same to her). The work’s tone sticks at an “anything-for-laughs” level and, as a result, empathy is smothered and the work stands not as a revealing battle of the sexes but rather as a grudge pillow fight.
In what is a novel-length work, more in character dimension, more in authenticity – the principals never seem to have the voices of Latinos – and more in longer standing dilemmas and narrative continuity could give such a story swifter legs, propelled by the great gushing comic writing. The Greatest Lover of Last Tuesday delivers a comedic wallop, but as Alberto admits, he suffers from the problem of “derailing my communications.” His and Adriana’s story-telling seems to suffer a similar fate. Characters and situations are introduced, and then dropped within one or two pages.
The Greatest Lover of Last Tuesday creates a dialectical cloud of sexual and romantic politics and their gender-perceived differences right to the end. The wit and the insights are vast, often brilliant and repeatable. So much so, that by the end of the read, I wasn’t sure whether I should be laughing or taking notes.
(Reviewer Ed Tasca has been writing humor for 57 years, starting with his appeal letter to Father Fenney, explaining why he wouldn’t make a competent altar boy.)