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08.06.08

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Phaedra

My Name Is Will

By Karen Laws


In his first novel, Jess Winfield serves up Shakespeare alongside liberal lashings of sex, drugs and buffoonery. My Name Is Will tells a tale of two boys stumbling toward manhood: William of Stratford-upon-Avon, and Willie Shakespeare Greenberg, a UC–Santa Cruz student (as Winfield once was) who dithers over his master's thesis (that Shakespeare was a dissident Catholic) while imbibing daily doses of Lebanese hash. Nostalgia permeates Winfield's description of "cow tripping," in which adventurous scholars discover psilocybin mushrooms among the cow patties near campus. An especially large specimen ("probably 30 grams") triggers Willie's picaresque journey to the Marin headquarters of the Renaissance Pleasure Faire circa 1982—and back in time to 1582—where his destiny mingles mirthfully with that of the Bard, who has embarked upon his own 'shroom-powered, broomstick-induced visit to the future. While Willie attempts to deliver the giant mushroom to a mysterious "Friar Lawrence," 18-year-old William Shakespeare, whose story is told in alternate chapters, plays delivery boy for the Old Faith (Catholicism). The parallels are clever if sometimes strained, as when Winfield juxtaposes Willie's brief imprisonment following a student protest with a fictional account of William being stretched on a rack. Winfield's point that political repression influenced Shakespeare's artistic development is well taken, although the horror of Reagan's war on drugs pales by comparison with execution by hanging, drawing and quartering. And while the Bard may have garnered some of his best lines at the pub, I had trouble believing a village schoolmaster would comment, "It is but an antic disposition he puts on to put off the pursuivants." Quibbles aside, the novel provides plenty of wholesome fun. Worth noting are the memorable female characters, who like to be on top when they go gaga over Will in both his 16th- and 20th-century incarnations. Like the ladies, readers with an intact sense of humor may find Willie hard to resist. (By Jess Winfield; Twelve; 291 pages; $23.99 hardback)


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