Joyleg
by Avram Davidson
& Ward Moore
  

Review by
Robert Wilfred Franson

a shorter version appeared in —
Fantastic: March & April, 1962
  

Walker: New York, 1971
233 pages

June 2011

  
A veteran's affairs

Joyleg by Avram Davidson and Ward Moore is an almost-realistic novel, a historical memoir set in the present day, with romance and a lot of comic detail and only a single plot-powering touch of the fantastic to make it all go. The heroine and hero are a Tennessee Congresswoman and Congressman, respectively Republican and Democrat, determined for diverse reasons to investigate the odd case of an American veteran named Isachar Joyleg, receiving an honorable pension of $11 per month. His veteran's status is merely purported (and therefore fraudulent) or oddly true (and therefore neglected). In either case, he seems to have been receiving his tiny pension for an unconscionably long period.

You may see where this is leading, so I shan't reveal much more plot. Suffice it to say that Joyleg is smoothly written and nicely put together, the more-or-less humorous characters having a solidity and sympathetic portrayal which too easily can be overwhelmed by comic elements. Here they all work together.

The sense of place is very strong. The remote community of Rabbit Notch has fallen almost off the map, is of uncertain county, and apparently lies indeterminately in one or the other of the two Congressional districts. Beginning in a Congressional committee meeting in Washington, D.C., we penetrate progressively not just into the American Interior but into the American Primitive, a journey in space and temporal attitude. Just the getting there is about a third of the fun, storywise, and it is this spatio-mental distance and isolation which makes the whole thing plausible.

The authors display a fine grasp of Americana, of American history and representative government. There are lots of wonderful unexpected details, without Davidson's erudite eclectic feyness over-seasoning the mix. I'll let one off-hand example stand in for the whole: as the Congressional investigators' train is leaving Washington bound for the obscure station nearest Rabbit Notch, we see that some of the railcars are named Monomotapa, and Lillian Gish, and Gondwanaland.
  

In the run-up to the Centennial of the American Civil War, quite a few authors of fiction as well as history found their thoughts drawn to olden days, and to artifacts and survivals and remembrances of those days amidst ours. (Sadly, the Civil War's Sesquicentennial, falling in differently distracted times, has received almost no attention.)

A couple of other thoughtful novels published around the same time are Conrad Richter's The Waters of Kronos (1960) and Clifford D. Simak's Way Station (1963). These also tell their story well, each with just one fantastical or science-fictional premise to power a fairly realistic treatment. The quite funny Joyleg holds its own in this rather serious company. Among the constant pleasant buffeting of surprises, it is not the least achievement of Avram Davidson and Ward Moore's collaboration that even among these fine novels, their plot's mainspring seems the most believable.

  

© 2011 Robert Wilfred Franson


  
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