‘dr. No book review

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This year marks the 60th anniversary of “Dr. No,” the James Bond film that launched the world’s most indestructible film franchise.

For Ian Fleming fans as wealthy as Goldfinger, tour operator Black Tomato offers private adventures inspired by the Bond films. Racing across Europe in luxury cars, yachts and helicopters, you and your Miss Moneypenny could stop to ride the Château de Chantilly from “A View to a Kill” or lose a few million at the baccarat table of the Casino de Monte-Carlo from “GoldenEye”. Why not? You only live twice.

But readers who would rather celebrate this Diamonds Are Forever anniversary with a less traveling adventure might turn to Everett’s latest novel… Percival Everett.

This new “Dr. No” parodies Fleming’s bombastic thrillers with a meditation on nihilism. It may seem like a dangerous mission, but Everett’s previous novel, “The Trees,” is a brutal comedy about lynching. nothing scares this author What is the theme – and oft-repeated joke – of “Dr. Nope.”

Will Percival Everett’s 23rd novel finally bring him fame? He really doesn’t care.

Everett’s deadpan narrator is a 36-year-old black man who is on the autism spectrum and goes by the name Wala Kitu. His first name is Tagalog for “nothing”; his surname is Swahili for “nothing”. (Longtime fans will recognize him as the brilliant baby narrator of “Glyph,” Everett’s 1999 college satire.) Now, as a distinguished professor of mathematics at Brown University, Wala knows that nothing + nothing = nothing. In fact, Wala is the world’s foremost expert on anything. He spent his career looking for nothing. “I couldn’t find it,” he admits. “I work really hard and I wish I could say I have nothing to show for it.”

Turns out there are more jokes about anything than could fit into a 22-minute “Seinfeld” episode. Much more.

At the start of “Dr. No,” Wala is contacted by African-American billionaire John Milton Bradley Sill, a name that manages to conjure up the great Renaissance poet and board game designer. Not why. Such cerebral nonsense is one of Everett’s charms.) Sitting in a cafe, Wala immediately realizes that Sill is “certifiable, but cheerful. His story is steeped in racial violence: his father was murdered – collateral damage in the government plot to assassinate Martin Luther King Jr. And Sill’s mother, a kindergarten teacher turned madam, was shot 12 times by a white police officer who served her for unpaid parking tickets.

With a passion inflamed by rage and grief, Sill dedicated his life to becoming “a cultural disease, an enemy of the system.” He tells Wala, “I want to be a Bond villain…the kind of doer of evil deeds that might get the Prime Minister to send a double-zero spy to thwart me.”

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To pursue his evil plans, Sill needs Wala’s help. Inspired by “Goldfinger”, he wants to break into Fort Knox and steal a top secret box of nothing. “How much power must there be for anyone who can’t own anything,” Sill said. He gives Wala $3 million to serve as his special consultant. “All you have to do is advise me. . . . I want your pure and honest confusion.

It’s an offer Wala can’t refuse, but he knows how dangerous that jerk can be. “Nothingness is no more emptiness than it is the absence of something, of something, of certain things or of substance,” he explains, disconcertingly. “The real Big Bang is coming, for what the universe came from is catching up with what it will become. To experience the power of nothing would be to understand everything; to harness the power of nothing would be to deny everything that is. .

It’s just a coincidence in the quantum mechanics of literary fiction, but there’s some chilling action between “Dr. No” and two new novels by Cormac McCarthy: “The Passenger” and “Stella Maris”. Energized by the “endless nothing”, McCarthy’s books compress scores of scientific names and esoteric terms under intense heat in hopes of creating a fusion reaction that will unleash enormous depth. Everett isn’t any less sophisticated or dark, but the vibe of “Dr. No” is a lot less Werner Heisenberg and a lot more Pussy Galore. (When a sexy mathematician climaxes in Sill’s embrace, she screams, ” Assume X is a variety of Kähler. “)

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Most of “Dr. No” is a goofy anti-thriller that revolves around Sill’s evil plans and Wala’s half-hearted efforts to thwart them. Yes, there are gorgeous robots, a devastating space laser, a pool of sharks man-eaters under the dining room and lots of devilish laughter. But needless to say, Wala isn’t Sean Connery. He doesn’t know anything. He’s never touched a woman. And forget the Sunbeam Alpine Series II. Wala doesn’t even know how to drive, all of which Everett exploits to parody both the Bond films and the bizarre world of physics and math on the edge of reality.

Instead of Schrödinger’s cat, Wala has a one-legged dog named Trigo, whose condition and position are still known. “My dog ​​met me at the door,” Wala says. “He had no choice. That’s where I left him. The teacher wears Trigo, or what’s left of it, on his chest in a baby carrier called Björn, which is not a standard equipment for super agents.

It’s all fun. But having recently read “The Trees,” which was shortlisted for the 2022 Booker Prize, I wish “Dr. No” focused on America’s racial environment with the same comedic intensity. silliness, this new novel is all about hints and feigns.The racially motivated murders that sparked Sill’s revenge fantasy quickly seem irrelevant.Towards the very end, a supporting character notes how much black people have contributed to America. “We gave it everything,” he said. “I think it’s time we gave nothing back.”

The power of this point is greater than zero, but it’s buried in a bit of pun we’ve heard here before dozens of times. It might feel flip, almost like nothing. The result is a story that probably won’t leave you shaken or agitated.

Ron Charles book reviews and writing Book club newsletter for the Washington Post.

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