Author(s): Linklater Eric
Set in the year before the Wall Street crash, Juan in America is a classic evocation of the final mania of prohibition, as seen through equally maverick British eyes. The character Eric Linklater devised to be his unreliable explorer was one capable of absorbing the enormity of the American experience without being overwhelmed by its incongruities. A blithe, bastard descendent of Byron's Don Juan, Linklater's Juan is an anti-hero with a taste for the grotesque and the ridiculous, at once both dirty and deity whose response when faced either with sudden catastrophe or miraculous survival is simply to laugh. A novel in the mode of the picaresque, this is a story of erotic discovery in the sense, as Juan puts it, that "your trousers hide not only your nakedness but your kinship to the clown." A nation emerging as a great power is exalting in absurdist energies. In its last spasms before the great depression, America is revealed through a series of unlikely accidents as Juan stumbles from state to state, somehow evading consequences as he goes. On his first day, he falls for the daughter of a gangster, witnesses a murder in a speakeasy and watches a woman leap to her death in a New York street. He thrills to the bizarreness of each spectacle and moves on to the next in a galloping mood that is part medieval romance, part running commentary on what was still, in the 1920s, the new world.