book review dr no by percival everett

Book Review: ‘Dr. No,’ by Percival Everett

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A second difference between the two protagonists: Bond is cool. It would be inaccurate to describe Kitu as “not cool” for the same reason it would be inaccurate to describe a chinchilla as “not sexist.” The concept doesn’t apply. He is, however, calm and collected. When John Sill manipulates the professor into jetting to Miami for evildoing purposes, Kitu’s first instinct is to ask whether the man’s lair contains a library.

In addition to the lair there is a submarine, a helipad, a shark pool and a stealthy manservant. There are foxy ladies in skintight bodysuits, goons, cuff links. Of course there are henchmen.

Kitu’s skills include thinking quietly and asking perceptive questions. Moving through his benefactor’s absurd world of private jets and robots, he is Lewis Carroll and Alice combined. The cornball innuendo of the Bond universe (“You always were a cunning linguist, James”) would bounce from Kitu’s literal mind like a tennis ball from a freshly surfaced court, which means that the vamp of the story, Gloria, cannot speak in triple entendre but must issue questions such as “Do you want to have sex?” which Kitu inevitably turns down, violating rule No. 1 of Bondian masculinity: Desire is always desirable.

One way to evaluate an artist is to observe the quantity and quality of misinterpretation his work begets. By this measure Everett ranks very highly. “Damn it, I don’t understand it, but I love it,” mutters one of the characters, regarding Sill’s weapon of nothingness. Same. Kitu has a colleague named Eigen Vector, which refers to … something having to do with linear transformations? If anyone wants to explain the term eigenvector to me as if I’m 5 years old, feel free.

There’s a moment when John Sill gazes at the “Mona Lisa,” which he has stolen from the Louvre. The painting, he villainsplains to Kitu, is artistically unimpressive but nevertheless “a work of genius. Marketing genius.” The producers of the next Bond movie should pay Everett a handsome sum to replace the character’s customary introduction with this phrase. Picture it. The suave spy, played by a clone of Sean Connery — because this is my fantasy and you’re just living in it — gently sets down a shaken martini and offers his hand to whatever seductress is on tap. “I’m a work of genius,” he tells her. “Marketing genius.”

DR. NO | By Percival Everett | 262 pp. | Graywolf Press | Paperback, $16