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Ibid: A Life [Hardcover]

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Item description for Ibid: A Life by Mark Dunn...

Tells the story of Jonathan Blashette, a three-legged circus performer and the CEO of Dandy-de-odor-o Inc., in a novel composed entirely of footnotes.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   250
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.75" Width: 5.25" Height: 8"
Weight:   0.95 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Mar 8, 2004
Publisher   MacAdam/Cage
ISBN  1931561656  
ISBN13  9781931561655  

Availability  0 units.

More About Mark Dunn

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Mark Dunn is the author of seven novels and more than thirty full-length plays. Belles and Five Tellers Dancing in the Rain have together received over 150 productions throughout the world, and Dunn has been the recipient of several national playwriting awards. Currently the playwright-in-residence with the New Jersey Repertory Company and the Community Theatre League in Williamsport, PA, he lives in Santa Fe, NM.

Mark Dunn was born in 1956.

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Contemporary
2Books > Subjects > Literature & Fiction > General > Literary

Reviews - What do customers think about Ibid: A Life?

Help! Ibid  Feb 19, 2007
It's a pretty brave idea -- a story told entirely through the footnotes of a destroyed novel.

Even a brilliant experimental author like Italo Calvino might have blanched at writing something like this, and Mark Dunn gives it a solid try. The result is a mixed bag -- a wonderfully colourful main character with epic experiences, but written in a densely rambling style.

The novel opens with an exchange of letters between Dunn and his editor. The editor tells Dunn that due to her three-year-old son, the only copy of his manuscript has been reduced to soggy pulp -- the only part left is the footnotes. The editor is willing to publish these, without the novel they belong to, and after a bit of dithering Dunn agrees.

The footnotes sketch out the story of Jonathan Blashette, a man born with three legs. Unsurprisingly his life is an interesting one: he becomes a circus frreak, falls in love many times (a pockmarked prostitute, a transvestite, and a girl whose "life is snuffed out in a tsunami of molasses," among others), goes to war, becomes a deodorant king, and encounters countless important personages -- celebrities, inventors, politicians, and more.

"Ibid" sounds like an impossible way to write a book, let alone a fictional memoir. Come on, who can tell a story through footnotes, which by definition are dependent on the main text? Which in this case, was destroyed in a bathtub by a three-year-old?

But Dunn actually does a pretty decent job bringing Blashette's story to life, through a series of notes for the text we never see. These footnotes are detailed and kind of kooky (Greta Garbo announcing, "I vant to be alone... with this big plate of sliced beets. Bring me some tripe!"), and touch on major world events like the invention of the jigsaw puzzle.

Unfortunately, "Ibid" keeps getting tangled in its own oddball narrative. It starts off well through the weird letters ("I know you never use the phone, fearing electrical shock") and Blashette's boyhood, but then Dunn seems to realize that this is going to be a very short book, and some of the footnotes become so extensive and rambling that the story gets lost.

That's too bad, because Blashette's story is so fascinating that you wish the manuscript hadn't been wrecked. Blashette is a likably strange guy with a compassionate streak, who runs into all sorts of weird people over the course of his life -- including some who were real, as a racist (fictional) letter from Frank L. Baum displays.

"Ibid: A Novel" is a strange, ambitious novel that trips over its own feet (all three of them). It has some definite flaws, but is still a pleasantly kooky read.
A life creatively told in footnotes  Jul 18, 2005
Three-legged Jonathan Blashette was the founder of a successful deodorant company and a forward-looking humanitarian of the early 1900s. Although he was not a particularly extraordinary man, his extra limb notwithstanding, the interest in this story lies not in the fictional biography of Blashette himself as much as in the minutiae at the margins of his life. Author Mark Dunn, who wrote the whimsical word-play novel "Ella Minnow Pea," has pushed the boundaries of fiction even farther with "Ibid." As Dunn states in the acknowledgments, he sought to "step wide of the narrative box" by crafting a story solely through the use of footnotes. As constrained as the idea sounds, it actually works.

Through the footnotes with their interviews, excerpts from articles and diaries, and accounts of historical events, the reader becomes acquainted not only with Blashette, but also with his family, his friends, and society at large. Blashette managed to rub elbows with such celebrities as Rudolph Valentino, Lou Gehrig, and Dylan Thomas. He was placed at the scene of numerous historical events, both well known and obscure. Thus, Dunn asserts, "History can be more fun than dry facts and dates."

The silly-sounding names and titles cited in the footnotes, as well as selections of atrociously composed poems, songs, and essays, spoof their more dry and scholarly real-life counterparts. The tongue-in-cheek details go off on bizarre tangents. In a parody of Wilde's Dorian Gray, an account is given of Blashette having commissioned his deceased true love's portrait and then having it modified every year to age her appearance. In another reference, a description is given of a friend's membership in a small Christian sect that believed Jesus had a dog that accompanied Him as He preached. There is an amusing account of a devastating squirrel migration in 1826 that destroyed crops. Another humorous segue is a court deposition, recorded during a lawsuit against Blashette's deodorant company, that is written in the form of a play script,

Where Dunn will go from here is anyone's guess. Will he perhaps try a palindromic novel, or one written without any letter "e"? Time will tell. In the meanwhile, enjoy this playful story.

Eileen Rieback
A man's reach should exceed his grasp, and this time it did  Jul 6, 2005
I adored Ella Minnow Pea. It was witty, well-paced, inventive, funny and endearing. It is rare that a comic novel packs such a serious message.

Ibid., the story of three-legged Jonathan Bleshette, carried solely through "endnotes" because the manuscript was lost in a bathtub, is another self-conscious attempt by Dunn to reinvent the novel. I would like to think that he succeeded, and indeed about 20 pages into the book I thought he'd succeeded admirably.

Unfortunately, as the book goes on, it seems more and more like a one-note piano. Bleshette is, again quite consciously, like Zelig (or the uncredited Forrest Gump); he meets numerous famous people in his life, often in unusual ways. There is a constant theme of the women in his life meeting their end in Boston, until his great love, the prostitute Great Jane, breaks the "Boston curse". But so what. Despite his ability as a novelist to invent any source he wants, from transcripts of conversations to the notes Bleshette and the future Rudolph Valentino scribbled for stage names for the latter and a deodorant brand for the former, Dunn fails to make either Bleshette or the other characters come alive. The last two-thirds of the novel are rather boring, and little comes of the possibilities that the first bits promised.

Great Jane, for instance, seems at first to have possibilities, and although she ends up as Lady Jane, and tries to save prostitutes from that life, we never get to know her much, or see her plying her trade. The various hangers-on at the deodorant factory have fewer possibilities (the running joke of "she's the one" "no, she's not" is okay but gets tiresome) and Jonathan's relatives seem to come and go without much purpose, the only exception being his father who comes to learn Yiddish after spending his whole life in Arkansas before Jonathan moved him to New York.

But the real problem is the possibilities for Jonathan himself that are not explored in sufficient detail. You'd think a man with three legs would have a set of interesting encounters with tailors; nope. Jonathan goes to war; how were his uniforms made? Can he use three legs as a tripod and hold a machine gun better? No idea. Are there rules to sports that can be gotten around if you have three legs (e.g., catching a football in-bounds)? A possibility not exploited.

The endnote thing is similarly unexploited. If you read endnotes (and I do) one thing you notice is a lot of vituperativeness toward prior biographers. Dunn creates the prior biography ("Three Legs, One Heart") but doesn't take it far enough. Give us a diatribe, Mark, something totally outlandish. Pick on the guy's commas or something, or a perpetual misspelling with endless "sic's".

I'm glad we have authors like Dunn who experiment with the novel; this one just didn't work. At the end he notes his admiration for Woody Allen, and one wonders if he's a fan of the later, unfunny films. This book is a lot like them. A great premise with too few jokes and not enough character.
A disappointment  Jul 3, 2005
The conceit here is that the only copy of Dunn's latest book, a biography of Jonathan Blashette, "the child circus sideshow performer who later made his fotune in male deodorants", has been lost, and the publisher is making it up to him by publishing the footnotes.

It's an amusing idea but it doesn't quite come off. The problem is that the footnotes aren't. I mean that they are not the type of footnotes that one ordinarily finds in a book. They are either far too long, or contain material that would ordinarily be in the main text, or digress so far off the subject that they would never be included. On top of which, the character is a bit too odd.

What made Dunn's Ella Minnow Pea a delight was that he managed to make its odd premise seem perfectly natural. But here, the story, like Procrustes' victims, seems to have been stretched and chopped to fit the concept.
Nabokov meets Mark Twain  Mar 31, 2004
A clever idea by the author of the delightful 'Ella Minnow Pea.' But it doesn't quite come off. The mock-pedantic sophistication of Vladimir Nabokov meets the down-home humor of Mark Twain (there's even a reference to the 1910 appearance Halley's comet that marked Twain's death as it had his birth: Mark Dunn's homage to Mark Twain?). But Nabokov did it better in 'Pale Fire,' and Twain did it better every time he put pen to paper. The humor wears thin after about the first 100 pages, and becomes more and more irrelevant. At one point the book's putative author (one Mark Dunn, author Mark Dunn's fictional creation) wonders if the book has been over-researched. No, not really, but he DID throw in everything including the kitchen sink. Exuberance alone cannot a good book make.

Nice try, but no brass ring this time.


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