Lady-Fame or The Fluke technically qualifies as a memoir, though it feels like an insult to call it one, given the way that term's been degraded in recent years. The events depicted herein are taken, we are led to believe, from Peter Santino's real life, though one passage, about a third of the way through, tells the reader to stop asking if the story is true and instead ask: "Is this story any good?"
So, clearly Santino doesn't want us to get hung up on questions of authenticity. He is an artist and this is most definitely an art project, less concerned with the niceties of narrative structure than with painting a picture of the times, places and people involved.
The time was the early '70s; the place, Eureka (mostly); the people, Santino, then in his early 20s, and his circle of boho-hippie-artist friends and associates. It seems to have been a pretty weird world to live in; the social fabric ripped open by the upheavals of the '60s had not yet begun to close itself up, and the result was an exhilarating sense of freedom and possibility combined with disorientation and creeping paranoia. A sense of foreboding lurks in the background throughout Lady-Fame, culminating in a near-death experience aboard the commercial fishing boat that gives the book its name.
At that point Lady-Fame becomes a recognizable and suspenseful tale of danger, adventure and heroism, but it takes its sweet time getting there. More goal-oriented readers may find their patience tried along the way, but those who enjoy a good meander down memory lane will enjoy themselves. It helps if you follow the listening suggestions that appear on almost every page, either through Santino's custom Spotify playlist, or by just looking them up on YouTube like I did. Any book that encourages you to listen to Donovan, Captain Beefheart and the Mills Brothers is doing something right.
As one who has labored long in the coal mines of publishing, I appreciate a book that is put together with care, as this one is. Not just the choice of words but the choice of fonts, the design, the graphics — all are impeccable. Lady-Fame or The Fluke is clearly a labor of love, and that is a thing to be applauded. And yes, it's a pretty good story, too.
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