Don Quichotte offers a postmodern self-satire by the author. Even Rushdie’s detractors might be amused. While Rushdie juggles the antique, extroverted Cervantes motif throughout the inward psychology of the novel, the literary theme of the double is perhaps even more significant, so that Dostoevsky’s The Double and Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway and even Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and Edgar Allan Poe’s story “William Wilson” are as significant an influence as the myriad riffs on Cervantes. Reading Rushdie’s novel is like playing a literary pin-ball machine or doing a literary crossword puzzle as the satiric, cultural clutter of Rabelaisian lists pile up like supermarket shopping lists. While these lists of television shows, movies, and folk songs are mostly American, some are of Indian or English provenance.
In an interview with Joe Donahue of WAMC conducted at Bard’s Sosnoff Theater, Rushdie admitted that his original intent was to write a non-fiction road trip account of driving across this country. But then one of his sons said he was too old to do this alone. They went coast to coast. Then another son said he would like to do that, too. And the first son wanted to accompany them again. In the end the novel is really about the difficulties and nuances of family reconciliation after wrongs, or differently perceived perspectives on difficulties, and the complexity of resolving relationships after long periods of silence.
The opioid epic puzzle plot supplies a major hallucinatory theme amid the cultural pas de duex dance with its bifocal lenses on pop and celebrity culture, especially television. What makes the novel an exciting page turner is that the multiple personalities of the author appear to write the novel into a dead corner, yet Rushdie manages to pull the magical rabbit out of its imprisonment in amusing ways—in tour de force manner. In that sense it offers a novel about a writer with writer’s block distracted by the insanity of American culture: its inanity, bigotry, comedy, corruption, and demonic inclinations as personified by the Jekyll-like characters of Dr. Smile and Evel Cent. If you have little tolerance for outrageous and amusing ricocheting puns, then this is not your novel.
Rushdie reigns as the premiere postmodern jokester, able to juggle multiple plots and themes with seamless dexterity. The clear and concise pacing of the novel allows for an accessible read, however, the reader will discover paragraphs or sentences that will provoke thoughtful re-reading, whether about philosophy, folklore, or contemporary entertainment. Rushdie’s compulsive satiric edge freights genial wisdom amid a drumbeat of suspense and comic cynicism. The strength of the novel resides in the emotional element of how complicated human relationships are in an Age of Distraction.