Roy Blount Jr. is known for the humorous and folksy essays he publishes in various magazines and collects in books with titles like One Fell Soup and Crackers. So it comes as a surprise to find him turning here to ”how-to” literature. At least I think that’s what First Hubby is. The reviewer’s copy bore no subtitle, but my reading suggests one: ”A Beginner’s Guide to Writing a Comic Novel That Is No Laughing Matter.” Not that you’ll nd in it a series of dry, ponderous precepts. Blount teaches entirely by example — copious, concrete, exhaustive example. For purposes of summary, I have distilled his remarkably simple system into 10 major points.
1. Begin with a faintly promising premise. E.g., the narrator meets his wife-to-be, the future first woman president of the United States, when she is 19 and naked, running away from a campus demonstration in the 1960s. Immediately ruin it with pages of soapy, aw-shucks sentimentality.
2. Let the reader become slowly, excruciatingly aware that there isn’t going to be a plot, much less a comic one — just the usual shopworn Southern stereotypes, some embarrassing White House bedroom stuff, mirthless verses, inane digressions, leaden political whimsies (the previous president is killed by a falling fish), and stale Quayle jokes.
3. Put the presidential character, Clementine Fox (”C” for short), on a pedestal of fulsome prose, out of the reach of irony, thus rendering the idea of a woman president as unreal as the vapid character.
4. Make the flattery as condescending as it is tasteless: ”C not only has the great hair required for her presidency, she has the body. I don’t know what it’s made of, but it seems to be bulge-resistant.” Avoid the example of novelists like Dawn Powell, who made even her strongest women characters equal members in good standing of the human comedy.
5. Have the narrator, a callow ”country humorist” called Guy Fox, tie himself in apologetic knots while trying to strike a correctly abject posture toward his plaster saint of a wife: ”No, I know, I can’t say that: a man has no idea what it’s like to be any kind of woman, can’t possibly have, although he ought to.”
6. Imagine that all this self-consciousness adds up to an advanced case of sensitivity, putting Guy beyond the reach of irony, too, and leaving the reader little else to do but wonder whether this hammy, self-satisfied, long-winded cocktail party bore is based on a real country humorist.
7. Enhance the humorless aspirations of the novel with a relentless elbow- nudging schoolboy jokiness that relies heavily on ”boogers,” ”fart noises,” and other items from the repertoire of infantile hilarity.
8. Clinch the purity of the tedium with abundant madcap grade-school sound effects: ”Snrk kaf-kaf Wangawangawanga HUH-uh Mffff MfffffFwoo.”
9. But remember this is a novel, so also cultivate a distinguished prose style: ”Hair that I can go stick my face in and go wuff-wuff-wuff, hair that is, hey, no problem, let’s go.” ”Hey. If she can be in cahoots with Qadda , why can’t I make a fart noise?”
10. Make the reader wistfully aware of what might have been by writing sentences that are painfully inaccurate: ”And here I am ranting along unpublishably. . .” A reviewer is obligated to point out typographical errors, no matter how trivial. In the ”About the Author” note at the end of the book, we are told that ”Roy Blount, Jr. . . .is a novelist. Now.” This makes sense only if the errant w at the end of the last word is omitted. Apart from this bit of inadvertent humor, First Hubby is flawlessly lame.