San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2016
Having been reared in the orbit of a major East Coast city around the turn of the century, it’s a stretch to say that I’d ever get enjoyment out of a 1950s, Tennessee-set love story; but here I am, having recently finished reading Tito Perdue’s Cynosura with nothing but great things to say. After spending one year living in the American South as a young adult, I swore I’d never go back nor have anything to do with it in a cultural sense; the place just doesn’t resonate with me on any level. There’s obviously more to a story than its setting, however, and the book’s back-cover description of the two main characters was enough to pique my interest:
The girl . . . is a natural-born elitist, contemptuous, or anyway indifferent, to ordinary people… The boy, preternaturally brilliant, is not in love with life . . . He abhors capitalist practice and strives for self-sufficiency at the price of poverty . . . Their brief and explosive affair approaches transcendence.
Growing up in a consumer-centric, public-educated, oversocialized milieu meant that my youth was anything but intellectual. I had tons of friends, and the only thing that mattered in life was having a good time. The bookish, loner types I went to high school with were “weird.” The above description of the two protagonists exemplifies this type of personality, and it wasn’t until much later in life that I discovered that they may have simply been on to something earlier than the rest of us.
The two main characters are outsiders with clear visions of what they want in their future: their families, peers, and most of society writ large are merely inconveniences and obstacles in their way. The novel is a slow-burn culmination of two people on separate paths finding one another and living a beautiful existence together.
One of the themes I most enjoyed in the story was the idea of capital and the goal of living above the strangling necessity of money. The young man repeatedly references this throughout his time in college and beyond. He wrestles with this idea frequently: “He liked to imagine that a superior person ought to be able to live without money altogether, a theory that stayed with him right up until he refueled the car, made a deposit against his first electricity bill . . .” In repeated conversations with the tale’s narrator, a chemistry professor at his college, he expresses his disdain for the idea of a career, instead hoping to merely live and attain knowledge. This Faustian idea, as well as the Spenglerian notion of the age of money, continually plague the boy. When he’s out on his own, his parents send him checks for assistance, which he burns. Pragmatism reigns supreme, however, and he finds enough employment to make his own way: “All his life he had planned to live a cultured existence without recourse to employment, a long-standing desire now seemingly within reach.”
Another major recurring theme is beauty. The female protagonist is routinely said to possess a beauty seemingly not of this world, and time almost stops in any setting she strolls through. Just like everyone else, the boy is captivated with her upon first sight and has to find a way to set himself apart from the rest. Though he does not possess physical beauty in the way she does, his aims for achieving a beautiful life are what captures her love: “People were at their best, he said, when collaborating on beauty, a project that caused them to be more beautiful, too.” In regards to the girl’s aura, early examples of society making war on beauty are hinted at. The female protagonist routinely finds herself having to subdue her natural loveliness “lest she violate beauty’s limits.” Outright hatred for her, exclusively because of her looks, is also referenced.
This is another aspect of the story I found invigorating: early examples of the fallen world and decaying civilization. The male character gets into trouble at college for having the wrong opinions (even back in the 1950s), chafes against his peers’ infantile interests, and sees ugliness everywhere. An example of this is highlighted in his disdain for supposed intellectuals when, in the early stages of his higher education, he dropped an English class because
[t]ruth was, they were indifferent to literature, those people, and were much more dedicated to social rearrangement. Some people were richer than others, some better-looking, some more intelligent — they hated it.
Later, the arrival of the Business Age is comically compared to “children tossed from the broken walls of erstwhile Troy” and “Mongols broaching on Kiev.” The rot he sees everywhere around him culminates in “want(ing) to be a living reproach to everyone who knew him.”
The only initial critique I had of this work was an occasional annoyance at some of the character’s infallibilities; the more I thought about it, the more sense it made. In the modern age, deep flaws are almost a prerequisite for a fictional character, since they are always, to one degree or another, common amongst real people. But in the drive toward beauty, why can’t someone be flawless or, as in this novel, close to it or striving for it? Furthermore, by the story’s end, our male character begins to show his weakness when the girl of his desires prepares to depart on a trip. He simply cannot be without her and acts increasingly erratic as a result. The woman, in rare form, keeps her composure and knows how to hang back, not smothering her love. All of their actions remind the reader of what it is like to be young and in love.
As this is the first work I’ve read of Perdue’s, I looked into all his other publications, of which there are many. I was surprised to see that his first novel Lee, published in 1991, was printed by a mainstream publishing house and received favorable reviews by conventional outlets such as Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews, New York Press, and even The New York Times Book Review. Though I have yet to read it or any of his additional books besides Cynosura, a brief examination of their synopses indicates that there’s a continuity in theme and approach to certain subjects that hasn’t necessarily changed, and certainly hasn’t been reversed. The world in which we reside, however, has changed dramatically. Thankfully, there are outlets such as Counter-Currents that still value this type of fiction and make it available. Other modern dissident writers such as Zero HP Lovecraft openly declare the worthlessness of mainstream publishing, and advocate for anyone writing fiction that falls outside our oligarchy’s approved viewpoints to do so on their own terms. Perdue’s work reinforces this notion.
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 Tito Perdue, Cynosura (San Francisco: Counter-Currents Publishing, 2016), p. 33.
 Ibid., p. 139.
 Ibid., p. 66.
 Ibid., p. 12.
 Ibid., p. 48.
 Ibid., p. 108.
 Ibid., p. 98.
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