(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Mulligan Stew has three interwoven plot lines: the story of Antony Lamont and his struggle to write a novel; the story of Ned Beaumont and Martin Halpin, characters in the novel Lamont is writing; and a third story about the private lives of Beaumont and Halpin when they are not directly employed in Lamont’s novel. The fourteen chapters of Lamont’s novel are interspersed with his and Halpin’s correspondence, journal entries, scrapbook clippings, and articles from magazines.

Lamont struggles to write his fifth novel, Guinea Red (later retitled Crocodile Tears), an absurdist murder mystery. He receives a letter from Roche, who is planning a literature course that might include one of Lamont’s works. Lamont is flattered and offers Roche access to any or all of his work. Lamont’s sister, Sheila, who has been one of his best critics, marries Dermot Trellis, whose novels Lamont considers commercial trash. With remarkable lack of tact, Lamont tells Sheila what he thinks of her husband’s work, then discovers that Dermot knows Roche. He asks Dermot to put in a good word for him, but after the correspondence from Roche grows distant, and Lamont’s work is dropped, Lamont suspects that Dermot has sabotaged him. As Lamont continues to struggle with his novel, his attacks on Dermot become more virulent, and Sheila distances herself from her brother.

Lamont becomes desperate as his new novel grows in directions he never anticipated. Letters to a poetess of bawdy verse whom he has tried to seduce and to his former mistress illustrate just how divorced he is from reality. At the end of his story, Lamont is...

(The entire section is 677 words.)