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My Little Blue Dress


My Little Blue Dress

In the grand literary tradition of making struggling young writers feel like worthless rejects who will never achieve the notoriety their rapier wordsmithery so clearly deserves because all the good ideas are being used up at an alarming rate, yet another 20/30-something who, if asked to affiliate themselves with a particular religion would quite likely offer "Postmodernism," has won entrance to the Land of the Young and the Published. And in the even grander literary tradition of adding insult to injury, the bitter and unpublished can't even find solace in deriding Bruno Maddox's debut novel for its mediocrity. Highly inventive, MY LITTLE BLUE DRESS offers a hilarious satire of modern society's twin evils --- memoir writing and pop culture trivia in lieu of textbook history.

Even for the highly neurotic reader who bypasses all jacket copy, it takes little more than the first 10 pages to realize this memoir --- supposedly written by a century old woman (born January 1, 1900) --- is a big, fat fraud. Was duct tape around in 1905? Do adolescent girls (and by this I mean actual girls, not those hatched from the pornographic minds of Nabokovian men) really talk about their own breasts in erotic and graphic detail? The thing is, Maddox's strangely perverted, slang-savvy old lady is pretty damn funny. And because you are bursting with existential ennui and in no position to refuse entertainment, you laugh at her moronic misconception of womanhood and egregious historical inaccuracies and happily follow along as she waxes nostalgic about snorting coke with Henry Miller and drinking absinthe with whores and hermaphrodites in 1920s Paris.

You continue to laugh all the way through her fond remembrances of the '30s and '40s, except this time yours is a knowing laugh. Thanks to several interspersed "notes to self" --- 45 years done in 6 hours…ahead of schedule, going very well --- the narrator's dirty little secret is finally exposed: Our 100-year-old memoirist is actually a pathetic 20-something named --- gasp! --- Bruno Maddox, who, for reasons I shall not divulge, needs to falsify the memoir of the elderly woman he's been caring for in a single night. A ridiculously complicated scenario befitting Maddox's equally ridiculous Bruno Maddox.

And so begins phase II of MY LITTLE BLUE DRESS…

"From this point forward, as well as being my autobiography, this book is going to be my diary…I've decided to make this change because I'm ruining the life of my caregiver…I've watched the strain of looking after me make Bruno Maddox depressed and listless, then rob him of his sense of purpose…"

With Bruno Maddox now openly at the helm of this insane literary project, the once breezy, albeit spotty, coming-of-age tale quickly gives way to a portrait of the artist (or, more appropriately, the wannabe artist) as a disenfranchised, hyper-self-aware, ironic yet irony loathing, self-pitying, self-aggrandizing, lovelorn young man. Now, normally a character profile such as this would elicit big, dramatic eye-rolling and deep, guttural groans of pained irritation --- why do authors under the age of 40 persist in creating their characters in this exact image and likeness when, more often times than not, their stories become quagmired in vapidity and cliché? But Maddox pulls it off with not a drop of vapidity and just enough cliché to turn Bruno Maddox into a brilliantly conceived comic loser.

As we hear less and less about our narrator's adorably bucolic upbringing and latter-day world-weariness, we hear more and more and more about Bruno Maddox. We get an earful about his numerous inadequacies when it comes to girls and socialization --- when asked what he wanted to do with his life by said girlfriend on their first date he blurted out: to live in an undersea dome and interact with the world only by computer. This pretty much set the tone for the rest of their highly dysfunctional relationship. We are treated to several lengthy diatribes regarding Bruno's incredulousness over being an undiscovered literary genius and the loathing he feels toward all those talentless, posturing dolts scribbling away in cafes about NYC stealing all the good ideas. Oh, and how can we forget our narrator's particularly hilarious and insightful pontifications on the ironic state of fashionable trends today:

"Take Bruno's Housing Department T-shirt. I don't know if I mentioned this but the boy doesn't actually work for the Housing Department…Does anyone ever stop him in the street and demand that he come provide shelter for them…No…History has ended and we don't need people to have fixed identities…We're going to design bars and nightclubs that look like toasters or golf courses just to acknowledge the fact that this is no longer the past and nobody and nothing, is under any obligation to actually be how they seem…"

For all its smoke and mirrors, the strength of MY LITTLE BLUE DRESS really lies in its sharp, witty, surprisingly perceptive satirical edge...from which we take two things. (1) Young people today know crap about history that is not of the pop trivia variety. To them, the past is nothing more than the place from whence their vintage clothes and ironic sensibilities were sprung --- hence the reason Bruno Maddox is limited to vague recollections of Henry Miller and Parisian debauchery in the 1920s, draws a complete blank on the '30s, makes a few mentions of the Nazis when blazing through the 1940s, imagines a life of suburban sprawl and dandy new appliances for the old lady in the '50s and has her hanging out and smoking dope with Warhol in The Factory throughout the '60s. (2) Memoir writing is the new opiate of the masses. A self-absorbed practice unlike any other, writing a memoir is like having an audience look attentively on as you undergo many hours of intensive therapy, then having that same audience sing your praises for being so courageous and introspective not to mention eloquent in the articulation of your most deep seeded fears and insecurities. Indeed, it has become such a craze that, ludicrous and slipshod and high school journal-esque as Bruno Maddox's memoir is, it is not out of the realm of possibilities that it could have been written or, worse, published.

Is MY LITTLE BLUE DRESS so flawless a first work that Maddox can now quit the book racket and rest on his literary laurels? Of course not. Sometimes you just want Bruno Maddox to shut up and stop, dear reader, addressing you, gentle reader, like this, my good and just reader. And on more than one occasion the tenuous-at-best storyline smacks of desperate contrivance. Nor should we overlook the fact that the narrative's periphery characters are ill conceived, while Bruno Maddox pays himself, his love interest, and their sophomoric romance far too much attention. Ultimately, though, what really annoys you about this book is that the aforementioned grievances can all too easily be explained away as being part of the whole memoir of a century old lady written in a night by a self-analytical young man teetering on the edge of lunacy armed with only a TV-taught knowledge of world events and a retarded understanding of women. Sure, you could argue that it's all pretty clever and part of the whole memoir/modernity satire, but that would be taking the easy way out.

Or perhaps, fair reviewer, you are just a wee bit green over Bruno Maddox's rather impressive debut.

Reviewed by Sarah Brennan on April 23, 2001

My Little Blue Dress
by Bruno Maddox

  • Publication Date: April 23, 2001
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0670884839
  • ISBN-13: 9780670884834