One Man’s Trash…: An Outcast of the Islands
It must be a mistake.
I mean, whoever previously owned this book must’ve had it in the back pocket of his favorite pants – his lucky pants – as a comfortable reminder. Like a nicotine patch for lovers of unrivaled literary expression. Or a stress ball for every time someone praises The Road. But then his lucky pants tore. He laid them on the bed as he went for the sewing kit. The man’s wife saw the torn pants, unaware they were lucky because to reveal it would break the pants’ magic, and threw them in the garbage after taking the book from the pocket. She was having a bad day – the kids got in trouble at school and her boss threw a fit – so she didn’t bother looking at the title as she tossed it in their ‘Old Books’ grocery bag, which she took to (*shameless plug alert*) Schuler Books & Music before blowing off some steam in the Chapbook Cafe.
The clerk working the used books desk had to use one of those reflecting surfaces for viewing solar eclipses when appraising the book. Barely containing his giddiness, he removed his sunglasses and stowed the reflector away with shaking hands. Chuckling nervously, he told the wife it wasn’t worth anything but wouldn’t mind taking it off her hands out of the goodness of his heart. She thanked the clerk and left. Later that night, the clerk was accosted by a howling man in his boxers, clutching the remaining leg of a grubby pair of pants and covered in banana peels, with ‘The horror” written backwards over and over on his face.
That’s all I can imagine happened when I crept up like Gollum to the used books section and snatched Joseph Conrad’s An Outcast of the Islands before anyone else could have it. It goes without saying that I’m a Conrad nut, and the summary on the back of my copy is perfect: nice and vague, mysterious and foreboding, dark and sinister. It doesn’t tell you a thing about the story.
But it acts in perfect contrast to its cover, which features a bearded Conan O’Brien fleeing at the sight of white men with a busty native girl. The cover pictured here is the closest I could find, with a young Richard Todd walking with difficulty, due to a busty native girl attached to his leg. Some publisher in the 50’s lost faith and wondered how to sell Conrad to an increasingly happy post-WWII America. Well, they found a way dadgummit, and not thirty years passed before Francis Ford Coppola came up with the perfect marketing tool for Conrad again – pretend everything he wrote was about Vietnam. All we needed was sadness to become cool again for Conrad to resurface, and thanks to Vietnam and post-yuppie disillusionment after that, the posthumous royalties rolled in.
So let’s just say I’m hoping for the typical Conrad. Long, beautiful descriptions, lushly unique expressions of emotion, and an oblique narrative that focuses on characters rather than events. And I think I’ll get what I paid for. Because WWJD (what would Joseph Conrad do)? Write an awesome book like the one I described. The summary promises firsthand, “An Outcast of the Islands is typical Conrad…”
Oh, it’s about to go OFF !!!
-Patrick, Schuler Books