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Thirteen Albatrosses (Or Falling Off The Mountain) by Donald Harington

By Genny (also Rusty) | Books | July 14, 2009 |

By Genny (also Rusty) | Books | July 14, 2009 |

There are many things about Donald Harington’s Thirteen Albatrosses (Or Falling Off The Mountain) that I don’t like. The author himself is a character in the novel, there are characters who are aware that they are in a novel and are knowledgeable about events from other chapters that were narrated from the point of view of other characters, and about 80 percent of the way through the book there is an absolutely ridiculous and nearly pointless turn of events that serves, as best I can tell, no real purpose in furthering the plot but only serves as a method of tying the setting into another book by Harington, which a character in this novel reads. Seriously. Surprisingly, despite all this, I don’t hate this book.

Thirteen Albatrosses tells the story of Vernon Ingledew, a genuine Ozarks bred genius and autodidact who decides that the best way to learn about politics (as he’s working his way through the alphabet of knowledge and has gotten to P) would be to run for governor of Arkansas. Some things stand in Vernon Ingledew’s way, such as the fact that he never went to college, never held public office, is not married but lives in sin with his first cousin, does not believe in God, is so shy of women that he can’t actually look one in the face while talking to her, and so on. These reasons total 13 and are the Albatrosses that the title refers to. Despite this, Vernon convinces some of the best and brightest political minds to come work for him, and launches a campaign for governor.

Harington’s writing can be pokey at times, and the parts of the book that don’t directly concern Vernon and his campaign have a tendency to drag. Similarly, there are so many characters in the novel (7 campaign advisers, not to mention Vernon’s partner Jelena, and some family friends) that some characters end up pushed to the side and as a result come across as two dimensional, or as being present more to move the plot forward than to function as their own person. This is particularly true of a character introduced midway through the novel in a vignette wherein she actually learns of the novel’s events through an e-mail communication with the author Harington himself, Juliana Heartstays. Both she and her friend Big Ben seem more as foils for the other characters or as a way to create certain tensions within the context of the story than fully developed characters in their own right. Occasionally, even the well known characters act against their established personalities and that is incredibly frustrating.

In addition to these issues, Harington’s work is literally self referential. He uses the setting of Stay More, Arkansas in all of his work and he does not let you forget is as other characters keep referencing characters or events that take place in other Harington novels. I’ve only read one other of his novels, and I found the constant references to other books distracting at best.

However, as I said, I kind of enjoyed this book. Harington does engage the reader in Ingledew’s campaign, and you’ll keep reading just to find out how the campaign goes. And I now do want to read some of Harington’s novels that take place in Stay More, if only to further my understanding of just what the hell was going on in Thirteen Albatrosses (Or Falling Off The Mountain).*

*For those who want to know, the “Falling Off The Mountain” appears to come from a saying that one character relates to another during the story. “If you’re falling off the mountain and you have a choice between screaming or flapping your arms, flap your arms first because you can always go back to screaming.” This seems to be the idea behind the majority of the novel, that Vernon and his campaign managers are busy flapping their arms.

Publisher’s Note: I appreciate that you read this, Genny. I’m a big fan of the Stay More novels (I used to check out books to Harington at my college library). If you do pick up another of Harington’s, I suggested Ekaterina or Some Other Place, The Right Place. Just whatever you do, don’t read Cockroaches of Stay More.

This review is part of the Cannonball Read series. For more of Genny (also Rusty)’s review, check her blog, Rusty’s Ventures.

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