Fletcher Knebel Gene Venable - Essay

Gene Venable

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

Phony plus phony equals funny. That is the formula for [Dave Sulkin Cares!]. It works, within limits.

Fletcher Knebel … here scores a mild success, pitting two con-persons against each other. The plot suggests a new answer to the old paradox: what happens when an irresistible force meets an immovable object? Knebel's answer is that if the forces are a con man and con woman, they fall in love, give up their bogus ways for normal lives, and abandon their glamorous lives for the same dull round of ordinary existence.

As you can see, I was saddened when this lively couple decided to quit their evil ways at the end of the book. For me, the height of the book comes at the beginning, with the hilarious description of the career of Gail Sunderling, who cuts a swatch of chicanery across the U.S., all the while half convincing herself that she had done nothing really wrong. She meets a guru on Hawaii who is her match.

Gail and the guru set out to stop land developers from defiling land in Hawaii. The guru enlists the aid of other hyper-strange cult leaders, and the reader meets the most endearing character to grace the pages of a novel for some time. He's "J. J. Jenkins of Jeff City", who thinks the letter "j" is holy, and therefore includes it as often as he can in conversation. (pp. 29-30)

Any novel with preposterous, delightful speech like [J.J.'s] calls for jocose but justified joyful jubilation. (p. 30)

Gene Venable, "Books in Review: 'Dave Sulkin Cares!'" in West Coast Review of Books (copyright 1978 by Rapport Publishing Co., Inc.), Vol. 4, No. 6, November, 1978, pp. 29-30.