Everything you need to know is contained in my experience somewhere, that’s my philosophy, but I’m afraid you’re going to have to make the knowledge out of it yourself. The world operates according to a mysterious logic, Juan-George, I want to illustrate some of its intricacies.
THIS IS WHAT Oppen Porter, narrator and protagonist of Panorama City, tells his unborn son. Porter has “the gift of the gab,” and in his tapes for his growing child, he literally makes a gift of it. Like the child’s mother, the reader is positioned slightly out of frame, invited to listen in, and the result is an astonishing narrative that offers the pleasures of irony without the sting.
Oppen may be illiterate, but he is obsessed with the importance of constructing experience in words. He stresses the distinction between his words, borrowed words, and ascribed words. Words are part of his own birthright, and words are the greatest part of a father’s legacy. The story Oppen relates is the sum of his experience and his final testament. For convenience’s sake, Oppen records his tale over the word of God: the tapes he uses come from a Christian fellowship. This earnest heresy — the fruits of his own experience replacing the handed down word of God — sums up Oppen’s attitude as neatly as anything else in the book.
When the novel opens Oppen has been living “the life of a village idiot.” He cares for his father, a shut in, in rural Madera. He has spent his first 27 years riding his bicycle through town, working odd jobs, and enduring the taunts, pranks, and outright cruelty of his pickup driving “friends” who play a “game” in which they run his bicycle off the road and into a ditch. Oppen’s offhandedness hints at the stresses — and the tragedies — that bedevil him. He accepts these cruelties with the insight that if he is being teased, then someone else, someone who isn’t as strong, will not be bullied. “Being a shield made me a stronger shield.”
Oppen loses his bicycle and his father on the same day. He buries his father in their yard beside the hunting dogs, according to the man’s wishes. To his chagrin, he discovers that “Everything is permitted until it isn’t.” Oppen’s innocent crime attracts the notice of television news crews, and his life is cracked open. Bereft, he leaves town dressed in his father’s suit and hat, on a quest to become a man of the world. (Wilson admits that one reason he chose Panorama City as Oppen’s destination is the joke — Porter thinks he’s come to the big city without ever reaching Los Angeles itself. )
Oppen’s voice blends three primary concerns — what he calls “the collision of ideology and improvisation one sees all over Los Angeles”; the love between a father and son; and the quest for self-actualization — into a seamless narrative. And Oppen himself acts as a hinge between generations. Over the course of the novel he buries his father and awaits the birth of his son. His own self-actualization takes place between the two events.
From the narrator’s name to his series of adventures, this story has qualities of fable, and the Los Angeles area lends itself nicely to fabulism. The name Oppen Porter suggests open doors, gateways, and a person employed to carry burdens. Porter, with his ...read more