THE SWEETMEAT SAGA by C.F. Gravenson. 241 pages. Ouferbndge & Diensffrey. $6.95.
In much the way that fish cannot conceptualize water or birds the air, man barely understands his infosphere, that encircling layer of electronic and typographical smog composed of cliches from journalism, entertainment, advertising and government. Gravenson, a writer of TV commercials, undoubtedly has contributed more than his share of pollutant. But with a little help from his friends (he claims to have written his novel under the influence of marijuana), he seems to have hovered above the infosphere long enough for an entertaining and satirical look.
Composed of chips of life, snatches of dialogue, news flashes, commercial interruptions, sight gags and puns arranged to resemble an eccentric audio-visual TV script, The Sweetmeat Saga is a nicely transparent put-on about the disappearance of Pookie and Paul Sweetmeat, twin rock superstars of the '60s. In keeping with the author's mythic intent, Pookie and Paul never appear. As the subjects of a nation-stopping search, however, their presence is never in doubt.
Born in 1945 on V-E day and gone for good just before their 21st birthday, the Sweetmeats came to mean something to just about everybody in America at one time or another. The middle-aged remember them as those darling eight-year-old stars of Hansel and Gretel, tragic dears orphaned by an auto crash, who became the exemplary children of the Marezie Oats oatmeal commercials. To the kids who had to eat the gruel, Pookie and Paul were the double thrust of the '60s youth rebellion. Paul is revered for exposing himself at a Dallas rockfest, Pookie for burning her bra at a Miss America pageant and announcing that "some of my best lovers are high public officials."
The search for Pookie and Paula typical American hash of the latest action and instant nostalgiafinally converges at Big Sur. The searchers include the National Guard, herds of stoned teenagers, vast tangles of journalists, swarms of hucksters, a pornographic-movie company and numerous freelance freaks. It adds up to the cultural happening of the '60s. But just before the Sweetmeats are located, the nation's airwaves suddenly go dead.
The reader is left with two possible explanations for this, neither of them quite satisfactory: 1) the official establishment, guardians of Telstar, etc., decided to protect the public from some sort of transcendental truth that would be bad for business; 2) the event itself was becoming so charged that it blew the nation's fuses. Unfortunately, Author Gravenson is not clear about which theory applies, although he insinuates both in a jarring epilogue in which he suddenly drops his comic mask and opts for some heavy social criticism. Reality has been edited out by the media pharisees, presumably leaving us to ponder the neo-Berkeleyan question: If no one saw what happened on TV, did anything really happen?