Reading Tom Carson’s Gilligan’s Wake is a dizzying experience. Its seven chapters encompass the entire cultural, political, and literary history of America in the twentieth century, each chapter narrated by one of the characters of the 1960’s situation comedy, Gilligan’s Island. Through wordplay, allusion, and metafictional madness, Carson offers readers an entertaining, yet philosophically challenging, trek through the previous century.
The book opens with a Jack Kerouac-like riff from a narrator who insists that his name is Maynard G. Krebs, a bearded, bongo-playing beatnik character from an earlier sitcom, The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis, and played, not coincidentally by Bob Denver, the actor who also played Gilligan. If this is not enough to send the reader reeling, subsequent chapters include the Skipper’s reminiscence of being stationed on a PT boat in the South Pacific with John F. Kennedy and the crew of McHale’s Navy; Thurston Howell’s description of his involvement in the Alger Hiss case; and Ginger’s romp with Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack. Lovey, the millionaire’s wife, narrates what is perhaps the most satisfying and poignant segment of the novel. She recalls her involvement with that most elusive of twentieth century literary characters, Daisy Buchanan from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby (1925). In the final chapter of Gilligan’s Wake, Mary Ann, the All-American girl from Russell, Kansas, reveals how she and the other castaways find themselves simultaneously stranded on the island, and starring in a situation comedy that appears, in retrospect, to be nothing less than a twentieth century morality play.