Character is at the center of all of Michael Malone’s books, and his academic novel Foolscap is no exception. Theo Ryan, son of semi-famous singers, teaches English (what is it about English departments that attract the attention of fiction writers?) at a small college in North Carolina. Here, a fascinating cast of characters surrounds him, including a Marxist English professor who insists on having a pool in his university-supplied house.
As so often happens in a Malone story, Theo leads a fairly normal existence until his life takes a sharp turn when he meets Joshua “Ford” Rexford, a hard drinking, womanizing, Pulitzer-winning playwright. Theo is working on Rexford’s biography, and trying to keep Rexford alive despite his propensity for alcohol and fast driving. But Rexford betrays Theo’s trust, fleeing from North Carolina to England with one of Theo’s graduate students and the only copy of a play that Theo has written. Theo breaks out of his staid existence as he pursues Rexford, gets his play back, and achieves a reconciliation of sorts with the playwright.
Theo’s play, written as if by Sir Walter Raleigh near the time of his execution, raises fascinating questions about the artistic voice. What does an artist do if his inner vision compels him to work in an earlier style? Can a contemporary painter use the techniques and narrative tools of the Old Masters in the 21st century without being dismissed as derivative or a slavish copier? Malone excels at the picaresque, and Theo’s adventures in forgery, negotiating with publishers, and tracking down the errant playwright all bring both laughter and tears. But it is this blend of humor and deeper questions about what it means to be a creative artist that gives Foolscap its enduring grace.
Check the WRL catalog for Foolscap