Richard Condon Essay - Condon, Richard (Vol. 8)

Condon, Richard (Vol. 8)

Condon, Richard 1915–

An American novelist and playwright, Condon is probably best known for The Manchurian Candidate. Concerned with paranoia in contemporary society, Condon writes in a style that is cynical, hard-boiled, and often funny. Condon is, according to L. J. Davis, "an ingenious and original [writer] with a genuine gift for dialogue and characterization." (See also CLC, Vols. 4, 6, and Contemporary Authors, Vols. 1-4, rev. ed.)

You would expect Richard Condon to start in a galloping rush, and you would not expect him to stop. He doesn't. Money is Love is joyous, manic, and very hard to take. You feel you have to keep smiling to humour the Jolly Giant Funster who comes bulging out of the prose, cornucopically unloading his fantasticated blather on to your poor old head. The story purports to be about money, and its over-intimate connection with morality…. [One] of the first casualties of time-slip and overkill is the money/morality tie-up; no earthbound satirical purpose can flourish where there is virtually unlimited narrative freedom. What does survive, despite frequent collisions with low-flying Olympian farceurs, is a sense of head-shaking wonderment at the omnicompetence of the truly ambitious and acquisitive female…. Some private tribute may be intended here; but the general reader is unlikely to be roused from his moral recumbence. In fact, I don't know of a recent novel more likely to pin him to the horizontal. (p. 285)

Russell Davies, in New Statesman (© 1975 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), September 5, 1975.

Condon is James M. Cain minus the rawness that makes Cain occasionally powerful. He is Thomas Pynchon without style or imagination; his wit takes the form of "There were Californian, Italian and French movie queens—all three female." (p. 4)

In a piece he wrote last year for "The New York Times Magazine" Condon says that he discovered he could be a novelist when he knew he was paranoiac, and that the classic symptom of paranoia is "retrospective falsification," which is also "what storytelling is." And "technically, novels are nothing more than opinionated views of emotion and consequence expressed in character and action." A real writer might be able to get away with such casualness but for a writer whose sense of either emotion or consequence is something derived from a textbook, Condon is just giving it all away. At the center of "The Whisper of the Axe" is Agatha Teel, the master revolutionary; about her emotions Condon has the opinion that a smart and clever black woman must finally want to punish Americans by killing enough of them so the ones remaining will overthrow the Government and begin to reorder life properly. Not that that is so very smart or clever a thought. Condon knows, however, that everyone has had such a thought for a few fleeting seconds at one time or another, and he is willing to make something he calls "character and action" out of diagrams made from such simple impulses. Then he will assure us Agatha Teel must be smart and clever because she ends up with the $237,000 worth of stolen diamonds and the gross receipts of $409 billion in 1975. If this is paranoia, it is paranoia turned statistical and bureaucratic. (pp. 4-5)

Roger Sale, in The New York Times Book Review (© 1976 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), May 23, 1976.

Along with the narrative power of The Whisper Of The Axe, Condon's greatest single achievement is to keep the reader baffled as to his real motives. Is he dead serious? Is this a glorious spoof of every pop cultural fantasy he can think of? Is it completely satire?

You never quite know. After a while you cease to care as The Whisper Of the Axe skitters back and forth in time, dredges up themes from earlier Condon novels (Winter Kills and Arigato as well as The Manchurian Candidate), invents brilliant new devices and roars to its climax which will not be revealed here.

The thriller, as literature, is having a considerable revival. One recent critic suggested that thrillers are or shortly will be the truest medium for the expression of contemporary America (a judgment that depends on your view of contemporary America). Be that as it may or may not be, the contemporary masters of the thriller understand their primary obligations: to tell a good story and to reflect the fears and fantasies of their time.

Condon is one of the living masters of the genre. Whether he ultimately means The Whisper Of The Axe as spoof or he is writing with a completely straight face, he knows the rules. It is one hell of a story. Condon now lives in Ireland but his new novel is a brilliant reflection of American fears and fantasies—a part of the way we live now. (p. F8)

Roderick MacLeish, in Book World—The Washington Post (© The Washington Post), May 30, 1976.

"The Abandoned Woman" is a chic combination of cynical, hard-boiled satire and cruel, off-color humor….

As is often the case with Mr. Condon's work, the prose becomes most animated and persuasive precisely when it is spiked with images of physical revulsion. During lengthy stretches of this "historical novel," however, Mr. Condon eschews imagery altogether in favor of what Gore Vidal calls "plastic fiction": names, documents, places, dates, genealogies and pared-down fragments of history pile up unremittingly and arbitrarily. The clipped syntax and pseudo-documentary narration in the present tense only increase the oppressive nuts-and-bolts ennui of a novel that substitutes an accretion of factual and concocted data for atmosphere and subtlety. Even the "ribald" sex scenes promised by the dust jacket are buried under name-dropping and history lessons. (p. 17)

Other than the cruelty jokes, which are at least told with a certain conviction, the attempts at humor are similarly disorienting and wearisome. Sometimes the humor takes the form of affected breeziness, as when the narrator describes Caroline and George as "the hardly happy-go-lucky young couple"; at other times it tries to emerge in embarrassingly off-key dialect, as when Queen Charlotte Sophia insists upon putting a chaperon in the carriage with the newly married Princess Charlotte and Prince Leopold because "'It iss zo improber dat dey drive off, t'igh to t'igh, alone.'" Mr. Condon's touch is about as light as the "globes, globules, and chunks of sagging fat" of Prince George's endlessly described "super-stomach."

Because the mixture of 19th and 20th century idioms is careless and haphazard, the funniest lines often seem unintentional. One moment the dialogue sounds like psychiatric jargon …, the next moment like poorly paraphrased T. S. Eliot …, the next like the more ornate language that we at least vaguely expect of 19th-century royalty.

It is possible, I suppose, to assume charitably that Mr. Condon is improvising some farfetched species of collage or parody…. But since the narrator is continually writing careless sentences, one might assume that he is indulging as well. (pp. 17, 30)

Jack Sullivan, "Caroline Wronged Again," in The New York Times Book Review (© 1977 by The New York Times Company; reprinted by permission), June 5, 1977, pp. 17, 30.