Gilligan’s Wake

ISBN: 0312311141
ISBN 13: 9780312311148
By: Tom Carson

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About this book

In this kaleidoscopic fantasy, seven uniquely familiar narrators recall the last American century. An old salt shares his memories of fellow PT-boat skipper Jack Kennedy. A New York millionaire gets Alger Hiss a job. An ex-debutante reveals her Jazz Age friendship with The Great Gatsby's Daisy Buchanan. A Dixie redhead dishes up the inside scoop on the Rat Pack. A scientist confesses to his part in every event from Los Alamos to Watergate. And Mary-Ann Kilroy of Russell, Kansas finds romance in Paris before learning why she'll never leave the island. But behind them lurks the man who keeps insisting that his name isn't Gilligan--and who's inventing this brilliant, poignant comic collage for reasons of his own.

Reader's Thoughts

Jenni Wieland

This book had my head spinning. I didn't know what to expect, and the premise seems sort of cheesy, but I consider it a good find. The narration takes us into the heads, hearts and incredibly sordid pasts of the 7 castaways of Gilligan's Island, and with it, into the head, heart and sordid history of 20th Century America. No, it doesn't tell us how they all ended up on the island-- it tells us how they ended up at some of the most significant, often top secret, events in our recent history... and it is not what you'd expect.


A witty, imaginative, salacious and oftentimes hysterical re-telling of American History and pop culture vis-a-vis seven vastly different and intriguing characters whose lives all collide at different points in time. Gilligan's Wake is an indulgence to be savored. In a word, this book is fun through and through.

James Murphy

Like its namesake, Finnegans Wake, this is a language novel. It's funny and it's brilliant. Besides the obvious title allusion to Joyce, it may also be dream. The frantic energy of it reminds one of Pynchon. Portions of it also remind me of Gilbert Sorrentino, especially those parts suggesting humble background aspiring to be learned and intellectual, a human trait he was a master of. In an afterword Carson pays a debt to Calder Willingham. He's a favorite of mine, but I didn't detect him here. Do you remember the television sitcom that ran several seasons during the 60s about a band of castaways on an island? We loved those chatracters. We enjoyed their antics week after week. But they had lives before they were stranded by the wreck of the S. S. Minnow. And it's those earlier lives Carson writes about. Gilligan is in transition from the character Maynard G. Krebs on The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis (remember that one?) to Gilligan's Island. He winds up in the mental ward of the Mayo Clinic with Holden Caulfield, Ira Hayes (the famous flag raising on Iwo Jima is a recurring theme) and Nixon. The Skipper's previous experience was in the South Pacific during the war serving in a PT boat squadron with John F Kennedy and McHale. Thurston Howell was a scion of a wealthy New York family. Lovey, his wife, was a bisexual lover of Daisy Buchanan and a heroin addict. Ginger travels from Alabama to Hollywood trying to make it in the movies. The Professor worked on the Manhattan Project. Later he surreptitiously suggested the CIA to Truman and, along with Roy Cohn, controlled the government through a web of shadow authority. Mary-Ann grew up in Russell, Kansas where she knew the Baums, Dorothy, and Bob Dole, later traveled to Paris and an affair with Jean-Luc Godard. So you see Carson gives us characters quite different and more morally complex than the zany, lovable castaways we watched during their heyday on television. Carson gives us postmodernism and satire. To populate a novel with characters like these is to progress naturally into satirical use of them. In fact, this is one of those novels in which the characters become aware they inhabit a construct controlled by an author and are being used to make larger statements. Toward the end I began to feel that one of the things Carson's novel is about is America. It'd been building for 250 pages toward the moment when you realize Mary-Ann is not only a stand-in for the Virgin Mary waiting for the moment of the birth which whe knows is her duty but is also the personification of America and is the focal point the other narrations, perhaps especially the Professor's and the Skipper's, have been pointing. All the mythologies Gilligan's Wake and Gilligan's Island present are equal in the end. This was a reread. I'd first read it in 2003. In a year in which I'm trying to be constantly rereading something, this will probably turn out to be a highlight. For one thing, it's astonishingly fun to read. The novel's wordplay at its best, professional wordplay. And that energy, just like the dust lanes in our galaxy spawns stars, creates the verbal moments from which come the constellations of puns and cultural references filling the book. This is tour de force, this is high wire without a net. This is a 337-page prose poem. Few novelists can write like this. Robert Coover. Gilbert Sorrentino. Thomas Pynchon. Tom Carson.


I am liking this book but it takes too much concentration, ala CATCH 22 to get it. so it will have to wait till a larger brain phase of my life.


Combining the need for more backstory on those who were lost on four hour tour with a historical/hysterical context that was enlightening and humorous. Especially the Professor who's response to everyone is to attempt to have sex or Mrs. Howell and her take on the Suffragettes.


This ambitious and very funny novel is not remotely a linear narrative. Rather, as its title suggests, it moves with the spirit of James Joyce and presents a series of seemingly jumbled narratives riffing lightly on characters from the TV series GILLIGAN'S ISLAND. In a style that has been compared with that of Thomas Pynchon, Tom Carson's book is not a particularly easy read, but neither is it especially difficult. It does require, and it plays like a jazz band on, an awareness of popular culture and of politics in the post-war era. Carson's sense of humor and of wordplay is spectacular and while the novel really only uses GILLIGAN'S ISLAND as a springboard and touchstone, you will never look at that TV series in quite the same way after reading this. Darkly funny, intricate, and at times puzzling, GILLIGAN'S WAKE is a terrific novel--but, like the show that inspired it, it's not for everyone.


I'm waiting to see a few more reviews about this book. Sounds intriguing, not sure if I'd like it or hate it.

William Akin

i'm going out on a limb and saying this is might now be my favorite book ever. Poetic, bawdy, brilliant, experimental, difficult, rewarding, and ever so heartbreaking. Goddamn, Carson. Goddamn.

MJ Nicholls

First-rate wordplay and outstanding mindbendery in evidence, but narratively nothing particularly interesting past the p68 point. Strained pastiche, overly long surreal dream sequences, a Pynchonian tedium for neolonames-as-characters that disappear when the sentence ends, and an absence of any tangible through-plot bogs down one’s pleasure. Too much reliance on unfunny dialogue and bland satire also kissed this reader goodbye. Cover is one of the ugliest around too. But Carson can work words: no dispute. The curious might consult this soapbox gush.


From what I recall, this was quite a head trip. Carson takes the characters from Gilligan's Island and plugs them in as general representations of the American post-war psyche. Gilligan exploring the sub-culture...the booze and morphine addled Howells losing their grip and seeing their world become less struck Ginger looking for her 15 minutes of fame...Mary Ann attempting to lose her innocence...the Skipper recalling his glory days and the Professor-as-Smoking-Man on the X-Files.Who knew this could work as a story? But the combination of the hopelessly banal and shallow Gilligan characters awash in sleaze, sex, power plays and amoral actions is good twisted fun.

R.d. Mumma

I was just reminded of this novel by a friend who posted that today (9/26/2014) is the 50th anniversary of the first broadcast episode of 'Gilligan's Island,' so I dug into Amazon where I see that my 1/31/2003 review of 'Gilligan's Wake' - probably the first Amazon review I wrote - was featured. Here it is:(Five Stars) Joycean ride for nondublinersI just finished this guilty pleasure on the train to work this morning. I read and enjoy a lot of books, but I never feel the need to comment immediately to the Amazonian public about them. This is one that I'd hate to see slip quietly below the radar in the flood of new novels.It's not just a pop culture pastiche I've seen it described as; it's a very heartfelt picture of the world for those of us who grew up in the second half of the American century. If you've ever read Ulysses wishing that you had more firsthand experience with the streets of 1904 Dublin, or tried to read Finnegans Wake wishing that you had a better working knowledge of Norwegian puns, this is the book for you (assuming of course, you owned a TV, were aware of current events and maybe read some T.S. Eliot and had a few years of French).Here's proof once again that St. James of Dublin (Trieste, Paris and Zurich) was not a dead end for literature, but a new beginning.Now I want to read it again.


this book is a mash-up history of the 20th century, loaded with pop-culture references as well as those political and not-so-pop, all wrapped up in the neurosis of a young man. each chapter re-tells the story of one of the castaways from gilligan's island, each time within the context of an era and filled with forrest-gumpian entanglements. the skipper runs a pt boat alongside mchale and jack kennedy. lovey has a drug-fueled flapper friendship (and more) with daisy buchanan, thurston recommends alger hiss for his very first government job, and ginger is best friends with and co-model to bettie page as well as lives in the same building as (and lends a pink angora sweater to) ed wood.while none of the book reaches the feverish, delirious pace and delightfully loaded language of the first chapter (gilligan as maynard g. krebs in the mayo institute's psych ward with holden caulfield), it does a good job of encapsulating the feel of a country growing up (for better or for worse) alongside its confused youth and doesn't end up being half as goofy as the premise might make it sound.


Tony the Bartender/GM recommended this to me. It's always a good idea to listen to your bartender as he always takes time to listen to me!


This book was amazing. I gave it 5 stars, and would have given it 6 if I could. To properly enjoy it, you must enjoy postmodernism and be amused by wordplay. If you meet those requirements, you're in for the trip of a lifetime. The story takes the main characters of Gilligan's Island - in the order from the theme song - and provides them with back stories of their own, rife with cameos from prominent 20th century figures, real and imaginary alike. Tough it out through the first, short chapter. The rest of the book is worth the confusion of the first few pages.


Sit right back and you'll hear a tale...of a campy send-up of James Joyce's "Finnigan's Wake". More than a three-hour tour, this is a tour-de-force through American history (sort of) and an entangled story of what the Gilligan's Island characters might have been up to before they started from this tropic port aboard this tiny ship.

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