Originally pulblished in Small Press Review:
Review of Misfits Country, a novel by Arthur Winfield Knight
--by Maura Gage Cavell, Professor of English and Director of the Honors Program at Louisiana State University at Eunice
Misfits Country, a novel by Arthur Winfield Knight, is now available through Tres Picos Press, P.O. Box 932, Freedom, CA 95019 ([...]), for $14.95, ISBN: 978-0-974309-1-8.
The story hinges around the making of the movie The Misfits, a screenplay by playwright Arthur Miller, which was written for and stars his wife, Marilyn Monroe. By the time the movie was being filmed, this relationship was failing. The other key figures in the novel include director John Huston, and leading men Montgomery Clift and Clark Gable. The characters in Misfits Country are imagined versions of their real-life counterparts. While this is not history, the reader will feel he or she is actually meeting up with these key figures as they are developed so believably and realistically. This may be fiction, but it is well-researched fiction.
The reader is taken behind-the-scenes to meet these characters during production time. When Marilyn has self doubts about her ability to play Roslyn, John says, "'Don't be silly. Roslyn was written for you'" (14), but he changes his mind about her acting abilities when he realizes he never had her on her knees: "'Yeah, well, we all make mistakes"'(15), so he is both kind and cruel to Marilyn within a short period. Combined, they have insecurities, drinking, drug, and gambling problems, issues with aging, marriage, love, and location--a hot desert. Even the minor characters are painted realistically. The description of Thelma, "She had a face like a used newspaper, but she knew things" (26) is not atypical of the way the characters are depicted--in a lively fashion.
The significant characters have many miseries, and yet there is a true tenderness between them, and it is easy to care about them. Marilyn and Monty care about each other, and they might even be in love on some level, but he is gay and she has been used up by men, and so their love remains unconsummated. It is an odd love affair. Their relationships and lives have been riddled with pain, love, hate, loss, and so the way they connect is tenuous, stormy, and unpredictable. While they may often be lost and flailing about in their own lives, they can be kind to one another, share true affection, even while they are grappling with their own various ways of being lost. Marilyn says early on, "'I can't seem to find...the way back to my room'" (9), showing herself to be literally lost, and then she says, adding to this idea so much more resonance, "'I think I'm lost'" (9). And Monty, a gay man playing a cowboy, has his own issues. With their flaws intact, they manage to make this film a work of art. As John so eloquently reminds everyone after Marilyn and Clark have met and she is happy that he likes her, "'Now that we're all so happily introduced, let's get the goddamn picture underway. We've got a film to make, people'" (11). As the poster for the movie The Misfits claims, "It Shouts and Sings with Life," so does Misfit's Country. Even the setting is lively; as Clark and Kay drive, they travel "east, past the Mustang Ranch. It was probably the most famous whorehouse in America" (127). Knight gets and keeps our attention. The vivid and accurate details of the setting seem perfect for the horse wranglers and cowboys in the film.
This novel is primarily a love story of Monty and Marilyn and is developed in a sequence of chapters entitled with the names or job titles of the characters they are about. The chapters flow like scenes; the characters' various voices and points of view pull us along to create "the big picture" (no movie pun intended). The chapters read like poems, and the novel reads as if it were a collection of poems, culminating in a certain sad beauty calling out to the human spirit.