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The MacGuffin
Elkin, Stanley, 1930-1995.
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Publication Information:
New York : Linden Press, [1991]

Physical Description:
283 pages ; 25 cm
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Bobbo Druff, a coca leaf-chewing street commissioner "on the cusp of just-past-it, " transforms his mid-life crisis into a paranoid web of mysterious events in a plot reminiscent of Hitchcock.

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Author Notes

Stanley Elkin was an American Jewish novelist, short story writer, and essayist. He was born on May 11, 1930. Elkin steadily and quietly worked his way into the higher ranks of contemporary American novelists. He was born in Brooklyn, New York, but grew up in Chicago and has spent most of his life since in the Midwest, receiving his Ph.D. in English from the University of Illinois with a dissertation on William Faulkner. He was a member of the English faculty at Washington University in St. Louis from 1960 until his death, and battled multiple sclerosis for most of his adult life.

Reviewers found Elkin's first novel, Boswell: A Modern Comedy (1964), the story of an uninhibited modern-day counterpart of the eighteenth-century biographer, hilarious and promising, while the stories in Criers and Kibitzers, Kibitzers and Criers (1966) established Elkin as a writer capable of writing short stories of textbook-anthology quality. The ironically entitled A Bad Man (1967) is about a Jewish department store magnate who deliberately arranges to have himself convicted of several misdeeds so that he can experience the real world of a prison and carry on his own war with the warden in what takes on the dimensions of a burlesque existential allegory. The Dick Gibson Show (1971) uses the host of a radio talk show as a way of showing fancifully what it means to live "at sound barrier," and both Searchers and Seizures (1973) and The Living End (1979) are triptychs of related stories verging on surrealism. The Franchiser (1976), generally considered Elkin's best novel before George Mills, uses the story of a traveling salesman of franchises to show the flattening homogenization of American life. But as usual, what happens in this Elkin novel is less important than the way in which the story is told.

Elkin won the National Book Critics Circle Award on two occasions: for George Mills in 1982 and for Mrs. Ted Bliss, his last novel, in 1995. The MacGuffin was a finalist for the 1991 National Book Award for Fiction. Although he enjoyed high critical praise, his books never enjoyed popular success. Elkin died May 31, 1995 of a heart attack. His manuscripts and correspondence are archived in Olin Library at Washington University in St. Louis.

(Bowker Author Biography)

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

In this exuberant, offbeat novel, the wildly inventive Elkin ( George Mills ) unleashes a Hitchcockian MacGuffin (the narrative spirit) which takes over the ebbing life of Bobbo Druff, 58, the fairly honest but bribable street commissioner of a mid-size American city. Kafka-esque unseen enemies and their supposed spies, perhaps including Bobbo's newly acquired mistress, Meg Glorioso, may be trying to nail him for an unspecified crime linked somehow to the hit-and-run death of the Lebanese Moslem Shiite girlfriend of his son Mikey, a 30-year-old ninny. Bobbo winds up talking to the MacGuffin and eventually locks him out of his house. Elkin's imagination flags toward the end, but he has rewarded us with many comic turns, including the courtship of Bobbo and his future nagging wife under Hays Office rules: Bobbo has had to keep one foot on the floor at all times. First serial to Playboy. (Mar.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Elkin here presents Commissioner of Streets Bobbo Druff, who, believing he is losing his power, orchestrates a series of useless and paranoid gestures to show that he is still top dog even though no one actually is challenging his authority. Though weird, the book was praised by LJ's reviewer for its "inspired, Joycean wordplay based on clich‚s, shoptalk, and technical jargon" (LJ 2/1/91). (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Stanley Elkin's distinctive prose is an updated and deregionalized flurry that completes with the originality of Joyce and Faulkner, a reflexive interplay of tempered expression making his bemused metaphysics downright folksy. Line after line, one finds observations such as "the boneyard of history is shtupped with folks like us caught short between technologies." Further, Elkin, whose fiction is often grouped with that of Robert Coover, Philip Roth, and Thomas Pynchon, among others, has used as his title for this novel (his 11th volume of fiction) a term made prominent by Alfred Hitchcock. The MacGuffin is a red herring, a false direction in the plot. Here, the term serves to cloak all sorts of plots, real or imagined, that confront the St. Louis Commissioner of Streets, Bobbo Druff, Elkin's professed hero. This highly recommended work is comparable to the best of Elkin, which is all of his fiction, including The Franchiser, George Mills, The Magic Kingdom, and The Rabbi of Lud. -A. Hirsh, Central Connecticut State University