Eddie Teeters is country come to town. The country is Arkansas and the town is a Connecticut suburb called Merrymount, "where paperbacks on existentialism were nonchalantly left on parasoled tables and men in bleeding madras shirts bounced golf balls off pre-Revolutionary gravestones." Strictly high class, that is, and Eddie aims to belong; he's a high-school dropout, but like every good American he is possessed by a "determination to belong, to ultimately fit into the picture, to count, which I have admitted is my consuming drive."
Or, perhaps rather more accurately, one of his two consuming drives, the other one being women. "I may be amoral but I'm no heel," Eddie says. "In fact I take the old-fashioned chivalrous view of women as sacred vessels. I have never hurt or mistreated one, and detest cads who do." Eddie loves women so much, in fact, that he has managed to mix business with pleasure. He is the pseudonymous Monty Carlo, operator of Sexucational Films, which produces highly graphic videocassettes that are represented as "training films -- like preparations for marriage." Not merely does he produce these little dramas, he acts in them as well; owing to certain deficiencies on the part of his leading man, Eddie steps in when the action takes place "from the neck down."
How else to put it except to say that Eddie Teeters, scrambling his way up the social ladder, is a pornographer? To be sure, he likes to think of himself otherwise, as the creator of "guides to lovemaking that if they were books nobody would think twice about, might even look up to him as a respected author." But society, even one so ostensibly liberalized as ours when it comes to matters erotic, is having none of that. Eddie's tapes make their way into people's residences, where it is possible that children will be exposed to them. A new governor has been elected on a "Moral Majority groundswell"; if government doesn't move against the pornographers on its own, the Moral Majority aims to hit one Monty Carlo with a civil class-action suit demanding $5 million in damages.
Poor Monty; poor Eddie. Here he is, deep into his "Gatsby sort of thing," and the very source of his prosperity may be knocked out from under him. How can he possibly hope to wed the rich and beautiful Cynthia Pickle if she finds out that her swain is, in awful truth, the notorious Monty Carlo? He may have to settle instead for Toby Snapper, beautiful but impecunious, who actually has the effrontery to say of him and Cynthia: "You want the princess. Well, I'll tell you something. We're a pair, you and I. You're just about exactly as much over your head with her as I am with you. We're both trying to step out of our class, bat out of our own league."
In other words, as no doubt you have already surmised, poor Eddie is caught smack dab in the middle of Peter De Vries country. He has joined the long line of amiable, striving, bewildered, amorous, feckless men who invariably discover, in De Vries' wise and funny novels, that the pleasures life offers, especially those of the flesh, come at a price considerably higher than had originally been bargained for. Like most of those men he fancies himself a master at the art of deception, but in the end it turns out that the person he's deceiving is himself. Like every character De Vries has created, he's human to the quick.
He's also caught in the usual maelstrom of contemporary looniness that is De Vries' chosen habitat. Social climbing, pornography, the Moral Majority, permissiveness, censorship -- if it's what middle-class America is twittering about this year, it's what you'll find in this year's De Vries novel. No commentator or critic has a keener eye than he for social and cultural fad, folly and self-delusion. "Alienation is big these days," he tells us. "Without it you have no sense of belonging." Whatever it is that's big these days will be found in a De Vries novel -- its posturings and pomposities quite thoroughly deflated by De Vries' kind yet merciless wit.
"The Prick of Noon" is in every respect a thoroughly characteristic De Vries novel. Its people have odd names and do odd things, but where it counts they are as human as any to be found in contemporary American literature; its commentary is in equal measures perceptive and irreverent; its prose is facile and its puns outrageous. Not merely is De Vries the funniest of living American novelists, he is also one of the best.