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Review: Elvis Cream by Peter Menting

The plot, if that is the word, of Peter Menting’s Elvis Cream is quickly told: Ali Hasheeshee, a wealthy fundamentalist sheik in the Emirate of Quais, wants to go to the United States to convert its population to Islam, but unfortunately he is a dead-ringer for America’s most hated terrorist enemy, Osama Al Osama. Meanwhile, a nearly bankrupt company in Muleshoe, Texas, run by a family of 1950s-‘60s music aficionados needs an infusion of capital. When a New York advertising executive tries to improve the sheik’s U.S. image by making him resemble Elvis Presley and then introduces him and his money to the Texas family, Mideast meets West with chaotic consequences.

If a novel can be defined as an extended piece of fiction between two covers, then by that definition Elvis Cream is a novel. Beyond that, though, it is not easily describable, except to say that it reads like the script of a logic-challenged screwball comedy written out as a narrative. At its cleverest, it has the zing of a Marx Bros. romp; at its lamest, it has the eye-poking juvenility of the Three Stooges.

Mostly it is a structure—or excuse—for forays into amusing dialogue that is usually only coincidentally germane to the story line. A loose-bag-of-a-book reminiscent of Max Shulman (creator of the character Dobie Gillis), it has moments of inspired lunacy, blocs of witty repartee and truly funny individual jokes – all interspersed with deserts of inanity.

The author is both a satirist and an expert on rock ’n’ roll arcana. His narrative, however, is less inspired than his dialogue. Sometimes sparsely punctuated, extra-long sentences stretch out to incomprehensibility. His favorite, overused construction is to have characters say things “as” they do things (for instance, “Rickie asked as she entered his office”). Less sameness would be less tiresome, as would a more cohesive storyline.