RARA-AVIS: Willeford's _Burnt Orange Heresy_

From: Jay Gertzman ( jgertzma@earthlink.net)
Date: 30 Jan 2004

I don't think any more bitter satire of academic art criticism is possible than the one Willeford presents in this novel.

SPOILER An entire "oeuvre" is shown to be the invention of critics eager to be considered experts in an arcane segment of dadaist-impresionist art. The protagonist, James, is another of Willeford's mechanically predatory, although highly intelligent, protagonists. The novel is noir, for sure, but in certain aspects (the venerable French painter's love of orange juice and silly movies) hilarious in a way which jars with the tragic results of James' cold heartedness. His most pathetic victim is the girl who gives herself entirely to him, Berenice, whom he uses in almost every way possible. He thinks he can regard what he has done with no passion or guilt, and at the end he says he does just that. Yet near the beginning, just before the flashback which makes up the bulk of the novel, he says he feels an
"ache" about what he has done. So which is it? It's confusing, as is the statement he makes on the next to last page: "In America you have to pay for your success." Then he visits the police station. I do not know what he means by the statement. I thought he did what he did at the end because he knew he could not top himself as a Satanic artist in evil. Satan does not feel an "ache," and certainly not guilt. Can anyone familiar with this novel explain James' motives?

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