Monday, April 23, 2007

The Comical Secondary Characters of “The Jewel of Amitaba” (Annotation G1-11/Goddard)

Stories spun by William Kotzwinkle in his collection Elephant bangs Train are delightful, insightful, and immensely humorous. “The Jewel of Amitaba” layered with outlandish characters and exotic settings are really the jewel of the collection. The depth of each character is described in scant and brief descriptions; generally, the reader gets the feel for the character in the sentence describing them, sometimes by a short sentence of action, and by the character’s name in itself. The vast amount of secondary characters is the story itself, the plot development and the action.
Adria La Spina, the central character is complex enough, and introduced as thus, “Veiled only by her long black hair, and a necklace of elbow macaroni, Adria La Spina, the beautiful pasta heiress, snaked her hips to electric guitars, while the paparazzi shot their flashbulbs off around her.” (Kotzwinkle 48) In this introduction the reader knows she is rich of course beyond measure, an heiress, and somehow in the limelight as a minor celebrity. Her appearance is telling, the thought of electric guitars and her hips set a party mood, and the outlandish idea of a necklace of elbow macaroni, she has to be young, foolish and perhaps a disgrace to those pasta barons who came before her. Aside from her description, Kotzwinkle’s choice of name is interesting. Clearly, Kotzwinkle knew how to name his characters, La Spina, in Spanish means simple, The Thorn.
The majority of the characters in “The Jewel of Amitaba” are party revelers on the grounds of La Spina Villa. Next up in the line up we meet “Norton Blue, the celebrated pornographer, with his sensitive Polaroid.” (Kotzwinkle 48) Heiress and pornographer are met with music: “O.K., fellas, hit it! Jeekers Peltz, derelict leader of Jeekers and the Stools, gave the downbeat.” (Kotzwinkle 49)
In these opening paragraphs, and these open characters can’t set the scene of the party, “beautiful Luisa Pina-Bodega came riding across the lawns of La Spina on an irredeemable Cuban Donkey famous for a decadent nightclub act in old Havana,” helps push the party along (Kotzwinkle 49). The donkey itself is irredeemable described, and Louisa? Perhaps Kotzwinkle has chosen an appropriate name, Pina-Bodega simply translated Penis-Shop.
At the party the reader meets, Cojones Colada the Jack-booted Cuban revolutionary. Cojones meaning simply balls, or big testicles. Other names as descriptors: Ali Clarkbar, the renowned sitarist; Ali seems authentic enough, but his last name is a renowned candy bar. Moreover, than candy bars, Ali is not the only food named character. “In the third week of the party, Monsignor Farina visited Adria secretly in the night by the rose trellis outside her balcony” (Kotzwinkle 56) Farina is simply Wheat.
Wheat and pasta make for insightful relations of Adria La Spina. Norton Blue introduces Adria to Fat Tong. “He is a disciple of D.T. Yumabachi, the Macaroniotic Master. Yumabachi, as you may recall, ate but a single macaroni a day boiled in dog’s milk. Slept standing up in a cupboard and lived to the remarkable age of twenty-seven” (Kotzwinkle 56). If a Macaroniotic Master was not outlandish enough, we have a United States Senator in attendance: Sparrow Bowlwater.
As secondary characters are met one after the other in true house party chaotic fashion, Adria wearing only long black hair and a necklace made of macaroni doesn’t seem too far out of her element. As the weeks long party is raging and characters come in and out, they all see to share the propensity for partying and the paparazzi. Everyone is glamorous, rich, and intense all except the last uninvited guest. This last guest being grotesque by any standard obviously does not fit the La Spina profile. In the mists Adria’s invited guests Kotzwinkle gives her something very human: compassion. “Please, said Adria, and stepping around him, looked into his face. It was a gargoyle, with temples bloated like a hammerhead shark; he had no eyebrows and his nose was a baboon’s. His skin was sick and prickly as a plucked chicken. In human traffic, he was a monster. Come with me, she said, I’ll give you something to eat” (Kotzwinkle 59).
With this group of guests, their short descriptions and names, the events of the party are told through actions, yes, but more interestingly through the revelers.

Kotzwinkle, William. Elephant Bangs Train. Clinton, Massachusetts: The Colonial Press, 1971

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