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Reviews of Dr. No by Percival Everett

Dr. No

A Novel

by Percival Everett

Dr. No by Percival Everett X
Dr. No by Percival Everett
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  • Paperback:
    Nov 2022, 232 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Chloe Pfeiffer
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About this Book

Book Summary

A sly, madcap novel about supervillains and nothing, really, from an American novelist whose star keeps rising.

The protagonist of Percival Everett's puckish new novel is a brilliant professor of mathematics who goes by Wala Kitu. (Wala, he explains, means "nothing" in Tagalog, and Kitu is Swahili for "nothing.") He is an expert on nothing. That is to say, he is an expert, and his area of study is nothing, and he does nothing about it. This makes him the perfect partner for the aspiring villain John Sill, who wants to break into Fort Knox to steal, well, not gold bars but a shoebox containing nothing. Once he controls nothing he'll proceed with a dastardly plan to turn a Massachusetts town into nothing. Or so he thinks.

With the help of the brainy and brainwashed astrophysicist-turned-henchwoman Eigen Vector, our professor tries to foil the villain while remaining in his employ. In the process, Wala Kitu learns that Sill's desire to become a literal Bond villain originated in some real all-American villainy related to the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. As Sill says, "Professor, think of it this way. This country has never given anything to us and it never will. We have given everything to it. I think it's time we gave nothing back."

Dr. No is a caper with teeth, a wildly mischievous novel from one of our most inventive, provocative, and productive writers. That it is about nothing isn't to say that it's not about anything. In fact, it's about villains. Bond villains. And that's not nothing.

Don't go around saying the world owes you a living. The world owes you nothing. It was here first.
—Mark Twain

DR. NO

Existential quantifier

1

I recall that I am extremely forgetful. I believe I am. I think I know that I am forgetful. Though I remember having forgotten, I cannot recall what it was that I forgot or what forgetting feels like. When I was a kid, my mother tried to convince me that I was forgetful by saying, "Do you remember when you forgot your own birthday?" I think I replied, "How could I?" But it was a trick question. Saying yes would have been an admission of my forgetfulness and saying no would have been an example. "The brain does what it can," I told her. If we remembered everything, we would have no language for remembering and forgetting. As well, nothing would be important. In fact, nothing is important. The importance of nothing is that it is the measure of that which is not nothing. Is nothing the same as nothingness? Students love to imagine such things...

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Reviews

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Dr. No playfully acts out the question of how meaning is constructed, and of whether there can be a reality independent of perception. "What is the function of identity?" Wala asks his graduate class. "Let's focus on the fact that identification and identity have nothing to do with each other." Naming things gives them power, or life, as Everett narrativized in his previous novel, The Trees, where the act of writing out the names of America's lynching victims causes them to rise from the dead, seeking vengeance and instigating a bloody race war. Like The Trees, which was shortlisted for last year's Booker Prize and won the Anisfield-Wolf Book Award, Dr. No is not a subtle book. Everett isn't afraid to take big swings—to be explicit in his ideas, to literalize, to lose readers in the thickets of mathematicians' logic and theorems...continued

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(Reviewed by Chloe Pfeiffer).

Media Reviews

New York Times
One way to evaluate an artist is to observe the quantity and quality of misinterpretation his work begets. By this measure Everett ranks very highly. "Damn it, I don't understand it, but I love it," mutters one of the characters, regarding Sill's weapon of nothingness. Same.

Oprah Daily, "Best Books of Fall"
The preeminent satirist delivers a deadpan hilarious send up of poisonous contemporary racism and the international espionage genre... . It's absurd and utterly brilliant.

Vulture
Percival Everett has always been a prolific writer, but the past few years have been an epic run even for him...This caper novel will keep you laughing and pondering; nothing will get in the way of that.

Booklist (starred review)
Everett continues to be an endlessly inventive, genre-devouring creator of thoughtful, tender, provocative, and absolutely unpredictable literary wonders.

Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
Everett brings his mordant wit, philosophic inclinations, and narrative mischief to the suspense genre...[He] is adroit at ramping up the tension while sustaining his narrator's droll patter and injecting well-timed ontological discourses on...well…nothing. It may not sound like anything much, so to speak. But then, neither did all those episodes of Seinfeld that insisted they were about nothing. And this, too, is just as funny, if in a far different, more metaphysical manner. A good place to begin finding out why Everett has such a devoted cult.

Publishers Weekly (starred review)
The immensely enjoyable latest from Booker-shortlisted Everett sends up spy movie tropes while commenting on racism in the U.S...Everett boldly makes a farce out of real-world nightmares, and the rapid-fire pacing leaves readers little time to blink. Satire doesn't get much sharper or funnier than this.

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Beyond the Book

The Assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr.

Photo of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, site of MLK's assassination, with commemorative plaque in foreground and red-and-white wreath visible on the balcony In Percival Everett's novel Dr. No, a character named John Sill vows to become a "Bond villain" after his parents' deaths, which he suspects are connected to the assassination of the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. When Sill visits James Earl Ray, the man convicted of murdering King, Ray insists that the FBI was behind the assassination, and that the chief of police pulled the trigger—although he does admit to killing Sill's father. In real life, some theorize that Ray was not King's actual killer but a scapegoat for larger forces.

Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed on April 4, 1968. He was standing on the balcony of his motel room in Memphis, Tennessee—where he was visiting to support the sanitation worker ...

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Read-Alikes

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