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Masters of Atlantis- A Satire on Secret Societies by the Author of True Grit

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posted on Aug, 2 2012 @ 05:27 PM
I just finished Masters of Atlantis by Charles Portis. I first heard it when someone mentioned that it was one of Conan O'Brien's favorite books. I'm glad I did. Conan called it "one of the few laugh out novels" and I have to agree. I found it way funnier than Confederacy of Dunces.

Masters of Atlantis is about Lamar Jimmerson. Shortly after the end of World War I, Jimmerson helps out a tramp in France and in return for dinner, clothing, lodging and a $200 down payment on a robe the tramp gives Jimmerson the "Codex Papus," a book which supposedly contains the knowledge of Atlantis. From the Codex Papus the Gnomon Society grows and splits into opposing camps and restructures and morphs and decays.

While the Gnomon Society is at the heart of everything in the book, Masters of Atlantis isn't solely about the society itself or its intentionally obfuscated (Jimmerson literally comes up with an idea and then works to make it as confusing and inaccessible as possible) philosophy. It's about the weird cast of characters, all slightly delusional, slightly sad, but very comical. There's Austin Popper, a charlatan and seemingly a pathological liar, with his talking bluejay Squanto; Cezar Grolescu, a man working to extract gold from a creeping weep; Ed, who has a note from the army that says he can't do anything.

It's a hilarious book that has a lot of fun with the idea of secret societies and the people drawn to them. It's also one of the few books where the society isn't the adversary and instead you get to see the Gnomon Society rise and fall from the inside.

It would make a great movie by the Coen Bros, but, sadly, it's unfilmable. The story spans at least 40 years.

For some, there might not be enough secret society minutiae, but for me, the characters are funny and it's interesting to see people cling to this society even after the world has moved on. I highly recommend it.

posted on Aug, 2 2012 @ 06:52 PM
Thanks for posting. He's a good writer. I'll have to check this one out.

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