Fauntleroy’s Ghost by Vinnie Wilhelm, 2009
The magic trick:
Filling the story with an impressive density of creativity and intelligence
I’ve not read any Thomas Pynchon, but I did have the pleasure of seeing the film, Inherent Vice, so I feel at least a little justified in putting “Fauntleroy’s Ghost” in the same category of hipster surrealism.
The plot pulls along through any number of wormholes – none of which seem to connect to anything but another, even more bizarre series of wormholes. I’ll tell you what, though – the sheer density of creativity and intelligence in this story is remarkable. There is a movie script about the Russian Revolution and a fairly developed idea for a novel layered within this narrative. All of it is drenched in a pretty impressive knowledge of history, too.
The reader can sit back and be dazzled by the explosion of information in nearly every sentence. And that’s quite a trick on Wilhelm’s part.
He walked Bunsen through Trotsky’s political origins, his crucial years with Lenin in London, their period of estrangement, the Revolution, the shock of a victory that shook the world, the Civil War, and then Stalin’s slow consolidation of power—the force of Stalin’s narrow genius, his mind burned clean of every goal but one. First he joins Kamenev and Zinoviev in the troika; the other two criticize Trotsky, but Stalin hangs back. He greets Trotsky fondly at Politburo meetings while Kamenev and Zinoviev look away. He plays the middle, quietly stacking the bureaucracy with henchmen. Trotsky sees his allies ousted one by one, he alone sees Stalin’s game—but direct confrontation will split the Party and threaten the young nation for which Trotsky has given so much. His faith is with the Party; the Party is the people’s will; truth will out if the Party endures. But Stalin gradually compounds Trotsky’s isolation, moving with the force of a glacier, wiping the landscape clean. Kamenev and Zinoviev see their true foe too late. They bow to Stalin but Trotsky will not; Trotsky chooses exile in Siberia and continues his opposition, corresponding tirelessly with whoever will listen, distributing eloquent critiques of the Comintern. “Socialism needs democracy,” he writes, “like the human body needs oxygen.” Stalin orders his final deportation in 1929.