Copyright August 2002Disclaimer: Characters from Buffy the Vampire Slayer are property of Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Kuzui Enterprises, Sandollar Television, the WB, and UPN. Other recognizable characters are likewise not mine, but used with affection and respect.-----------
Third Person Interpolative: the Nonentity as Linchpin of History – Andrew Iverson
The publication of F.W. Pryce’s eagerly-awaited second book brings an end to a long anticipation. Unfortunately, it cannot remotely be called a satisfying resolution.
Pryce’s effort deserves praise in a number of areas: the same terse, biting style that brought Blood Raven such a rousing response; the same meticulous, detailed research that makes it impossible to soundly disprove any aspect of her postulated claims; and, not without merit, the simple fact of having declined to imitate her earlier success by producing more of the same.
Ultimately, however, Twice Removed fails to meet any reasonable expectations. Whereas Blood Raven provided an eerily convincing you-are-there factofictional exploration of the infamous string of Toronto murders in the mid-1990s, explaining it as the result of incessant infighting within the bounds of a small, secret vampire community, its follow-up — one would not venture to call it a sequel — regresses to far more prosaic ground. In fact, pertinent comparison requires one to go back nearly a century to Clifford Irving’s ultimately-proven-to-be-fictitious ‘autobiography’ of Howard Hughes, or Edmund Morris inserting himself as an observer into events in the life of Ronald Reagan. Both were productions by writers who had already proven themselves capable and successful, and for both the response was unpleasant. Morris was criticized for adding a self-serving fictional element to a serious historical memoir, and Irving was successfully prosecuted for fraud and even served a brief prison term. For a new author with such obvious promise as Pryce to place herself in such dubious company must be considered, at the very least, a questionable decision.
In brief, Twice Removed presents itself as the biography of Pryce’s great-grandfather, one Alexander Harris, with an exacting detail equally the match of that found in Blood Raven, but devoted to supporting the claim that this undistinguished man in fact played a pivotal role in any number of significant historical events. ‘Revisionist’ is a term entirely inadequate to describe this effort; it is unworthy, a waste of talent, and more than slightly pathetic.
Official records indicate that Alexander Lavelle Harris was born in Sunnydale, California in October of 1981. He spent most of his (known) life in that city or in the nearby Los Angeles area, with occasional trips to other locations but no permanent transfer of domicile. He completed high school in 1999 — his was the last graduating class before the destruction of the high school he had attended, and he was one of several questioned in connection with its demolition — and never attended college, though he occasionally worked on campus at the Sunnydale branch of the University of California. The time of his death cannot be firmly established; he simply fails to appear in any further records after 2029.
That constitutes almost the entirety of what is factually known about him. It is true that Elizabeth Summers and Cordelia Affleck Forbes (née Chase) were part of the same graduating class, so that he was acquainted with them is a not unreasonable extrapolation. It is less reasonable to claim that the most accomplished Olympic athlete of any era, and the most extravagant, controversial grande dame of society, both owed their lives to Alexander Harris: not once, but on more than a dozen occasions. None of this is documented (outside of this book), but Pryce presents it as substantiated fact. Nor is that the most extreme claim made here. What follows, rest assured, is not a complete list, but only the high points that cannot be forgotten, try as one might.
Alexander Harris, unknown to any other documented source, is said to have:
• toured as a roadie with anarch-rock founders Devon and the Dingoes • gathered the evidence that led to Forbes’ acquittal in her highly publicized trial for the murder of newscaster Richard Thornberg • worked with U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard, and FBI profiler Frank Black, in their interagency manhunt for the horrific Dr. Hannibal Lecter • been first a hostage, and then a partner, of ecoterrorist Sarah Connor (at that time third on the FBI’s Most Wanted list) in the multistate crime spree that ended in her presumed death.
The litany continues for well over three hundred pages, but there is little point in following it further. Pryce’s central claim of her great-grandfather’s importance and involvement suffuses the book and invalidates any merit the writing itself might possess.
The real shame here is that much of what was merely touched on could have formed the basis of a worthy and enthralling narrative. Though it has faded from prominence since the Great Quake of 2003, Sunnydale was once rated alongside Roswell, New Mexico and Rome, Wisconsin as a source of bizarre events and rumors; Pryce clearly possesses an encyclopedic mass of written and verbal history regarding one of the most surreal communities in the former United States, yet she provides only a glancing treatment of it, using it simply as the backdrop for her progenitor’s supposed exploits. Similarly, there is a great deal to suggest that Pryce has an inside track to previously unexplicated twists and events in the remarkable and outrageous career of the woman who came to be known simply as “Queen Cordy” … but here she appears only as a former lover, to the rescue of whom the elder Harris came dashing in drearily repetitive time of need.
The most appalling treatment, however, is that provided for Elizabeth Anne Summers. Widely compared to Jesse Owens and Babe Didricksen, Summers can fairly be said to have surpassed them, and her achievement is unlikely ever to be bested. Though others — Mark Spitz, Eric Heiden, Michael Phelps, and Michael Newman — won more gold medals, Summers made her mark as arguably the greatest athlete of all time by taking gold in three dissimilar events (triathlon, judo, and archery) in the 2012 Summer Olympics, and even more astonishingly another three (speed skating, grand slalom, and biathlon) in the subsequent 2014 Winter Olympics. Almost a century later, the world records she set in two of those events have yet to be broken; Michael Newman eventually turned in a better time in the triathlon, but no other Olympian has ever approached her mark.
This woman was the world’s greatest athlete, not only of her own time but of any for which records exist. And, within the pages of Twice Removed, she is reduced to the role of a bit player.
Despite its shortcomings, there is no doubt that this book will be widely received, and — even more to be regretted — that a cult following will immediately begin searching archives and seeking witnesses to further chronicle the newly created legend of Alexander Harris. Had Pryce treated the subject with even marginally less seriousness, interjected the most delicate shading of parody, Twice Removed could be seen as a delightful send-up, a sly reworking of the Forrest Gump oeuvre. Unfortunately, it is all too obvious that Pryce is utterly earnest in this endeavor. She wasted four years, considerable talent, and an inestimable amount of her current and future credibility, in a futile and meaningless effort to spotlight the achievements of a man who, much as his great-granddaughter might wish otherwise, had none.
Not every writer can skim the crescent out of the park on the first try. Pryce did so. For her to fail so dismally and spectacularly in her next effort is disappointing almost to the level of tragedy. One may only hope this ill-fated exercise has worked out of her system whatever issues she felt compelled to address, and that future works will be of more legitimacy and substance.
The opinions expressed in the preceding article are solely those of the author, and do not reflect the editorial stance of this publication.