The Primary Colors (Magill's Literary Annual 1991-2005)
In undertaking to write three separate essays whose topics are blue, yellow, and red, novelist, poet, fable-writer, and English stylist par excellence Alexander Theroux (older brother to the more prolific Paul Theroux) has given himself an assignment whose apparent simplicity belies its enormous scope. The entire visible world is, after all, constituted by combinations of the presence or absence of these three colors. That Theroux successfully creates a compelling work of literature out of this is as much a tribute, one suspects, to Theroux’s good relationship to one or several unnamed librarians as to his own writing and research skills.
Each of these three essays might rightly be described as a lengthy, nonthematic meditation. Theroux does not pose as a philosopher trying to revolutionize art or color theory. Instead, he is more of a historian/poet/guru trying to encourage the reader to know and experience the colors blue, yellow, and red in a new way.
A passage from the beginning of his first essay, “Blue,” gives a taste of the style of Theroux’s prose:
It is the color of ambiguous depth, of the heavens and of the abyss at once; blue is the color of the shadow side, the tint of the marvelous and the inexplicable, of desire, of knowledge, of the blue movie, of blue talk. . . . It is the color of anode plates, royalty at Rome, smoke, distant hills, postmarks, Georgian silver, thin milk, and hardened steel. . . .
(The entire section is 1958 words.)
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The Primary Colors (Magill Book Reviews)
This book is an unstructured monologue on the subjects of blue, yellow, and red, delivered by an extremely well-read, well- traveled, well-connected man with an insatiable appetite for information of any kind and an astonishing ability to absorb and recall it. Blue, Theroux says in his first essay, is “the symbol of the baby boys in America, mourning in Borneo, tribulation to the American Indian, and the direction South in Tibet...Chows have blue tongues. Potato spray in Ireland is blue...It is the solid endearing color of the locomotive in Watty Piper’s THE LITTLE ENGINE THAT COULD.” He names twelve songs by Duke Ellington with some shade of blue in the title. He provides the reader with the formula for the blue paint that covers his own bedroom walls, as well as the recipe for a “Blue Devil” cocktail. He celebrates the use of blue in painting from Mayan murals to Andy Warhol’s BLUE LIZ AS CLEOPATRA, in poetry from Vergil to Ezra Pound. He relates an anecdote in which Liberace inadvertently turned a lasagna blue by mistaking Comet cleanser for Parmesan cheese. It’s as though Theroux has made a concordance of everything he had ever experienced and was able to pull out all of the references of blue and relate them to a good friend over Stilton (“King of the English Blues”) and port (“oh, in wines, the splendiferous varieties of reds”).
Theroux’s observations are sometimes a page or two in length, sometimes packed by the score into...
(The entire section is 385 words.)