Flying Saucers Over Hennepin
by Peter Gelman
[$11, paperback, Permeable Press]
Review by William P. Meyers
Polls show that more Americans than not believe that UFO's are real and are visitors from outer space, and that the government lies to them and has crashed UFO's and extraterrestrials in its possession. But the narrator of Flying Saucers Over Hennepin was unable to sell many copies of his zine by the same name, and ended up giving most of them away. Even among the "weirdoes" he classified himself with he was not taken seriously. Perhaps the problem was that his zine closed down before the X-Files started its television run. Or perhaps his own particular take on the flying saucers, which is that they were here as part of a leveraged buyout of earth by a savings and loan on the planet Fornax, was incapable of competing with the tabloid accounts available at any supermarket.
The novel is set in the late 80's. You remember the late 1980's, before the end of the cold war, the go-go years of leveraged buyouts, stock and real estate markets that could never go down, Contras and apartheid. Before your former friends lost all their savings when the California real estate market crashed in 1990, before the banks lowered interest rates on CD's and advised everyone to buy mutual funds instead. Before Charles Hurwitz's savings and loan failed, leaving US taxpayers a billion dollar bill to pay, but allowing him to buy Pacific Lumber and the Headwaters Forest. Hennepin Avenue is in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and apparently only Chopper Bloch saw a UFO hovering there. Other strange things are going on that lead Chopper to believe that real human beings are being replaced by mannequins. His girlfriend's mother is leading the effort to bring an Internationally famous piece of art to the local art museum so that Minneapolitans can hold their heads high when matching snide remarks with New Yorkers and Parisians. Her father is preparing for the annual spring clearance at his fur store. Animal rights activists are planning to protest the sale. A famous local news woman is missing and presumed dead. There's a strike on at the meat processing plant (remember, it's the late 1980's, there were still unions and something now long forgotten, called a "pay raise.")
It's a heady mix and Gelman is deadly funny. When he's talking about the artistic establishment, especially, Gelman is brilliant with well-aimed literary allusions. You'll meet all kinds of characters in or near Hennepin Avenue: a judge who practices saying stern things in a mirror, a punk rock anarchist on a trust fund, rich shoppers, homeless weirdoes, and poetry- shouters, among others. The book even has a plot. Gelman slips back and forth between narration and having a one- sided conversation with his readers, which is usually a recipe for disaster. Instead it lends richness and credence to the work, since it's supposed to be written by a semi-paranoid, quasi-schizophrenic, down and almost out writer.
My advice is to take a trip back to the late 80's, get some perspective on the go-go late 1990's. After all the stock market is heading for 40,000 (I heard that from a moron on Nightly Business Report), we really don't need those old-growth redwoods in the Headwaters Forest for anything besides patio decks, automation won't endanger your job, it's better to starve under capitalism than to eat under socialism (ask any Russian), big words of Creek and Latin derivation make for better literature, and modern poetry is really poetry, not just pretentious words strung together by people who don't have the discipline to write a novel, short story, or essay. Enjoy it, the party will go on forever.
Go to Amazon.com to Order