"A masterful story..." —Seattle Book Review
"May be the single wildest novel I've ever read. It rings the cosmic gong on so many levels, turns so many stereotypes inside out, one scarcely knows what to do but hold on and enjoy the ride. And enjoy it I did." —TOM ROBBINS
Acclaimed for his surreal, satirical vision and his “consistently dazzling” (Kirkus Reviews) writing style, cult favorite Tony Vigorito stretches the boundaries of storytelling beyond all limits with his long-awaited third novel. A quest to find the treasure of all treasures launches this swashbuckling tale of romance and high adventure across three centuries and takes you on a hilarious and visionary journey that includes lovers, pirates, bank robbers, treasure maps, yoga cults, love potions, assassins, con artists, quicksand, smugglers, and rock-paper-scissors. Welcome to the “incomparable imagination” (Minneapolis Books Examiner) of a Tony Vigorito novel. And beware the meadow of marvels...
"A deeply original and satisfying book."—Booklife"Opening with a satire of the Adam and Eve story, this book moves seamlessly back and forth between eighteenth century Caribbean pirates with a treasure map and twenty-first century San Franciscans contending with a false New Age prophet. The author controls these seemingly disparate scenarios with humor and panache, creating such memorable characters as a guardian parrot, a bumbling True Believer, and a herd of cowbell wearing bison somehow relocated to a tropical island. This is a deeply original and satisfying book." —Booklife
Praise for Love and Other Pranks
"One of the best novels I have ever been fortunate enough to read... Delights and mesmerizes from the very first page. .. I highly recommend this to everyone." —San Francisco Book Review (more...)"One of the best novels I have ever been fortunate enough to read."—San Francisco Book Review
"Stylish and surreal… A wild ride… Impossible to put down… A novel that can be parsed several times to uncover new meaning, Love and Other Pranks is a must-read." —Foreword Reviews (more...)
"A dazzling dreamwalk… Quirky and witty… A masterful story… Highly recommended if you want a book that makes you think and that presents deep and thoughtful questions couched in wry humor so as to not overwhelm." —Seattle Book Review (more...)
"Hot damn, Tony Vigorito is a marvel! Love and Other Pranks is a wisdom-wielding, gut-laugh-inciting, ribbon-twisting, lust-spurring, thought-bending, all-out adventure. When listing the great smiling American prophets — Twain, Robbins, Vonnegut, and Moore — Vigorito lands near the top!" —OWEN EGERTON, author of several novels including The Book of Harold, and writer/director of the thriller Follow
"A unique, dazzling novel that breaks the conventional rules of storytelling... A work of great imagination… Will entice and have readers utterly enthralled. The writing is crisp and impeccable... Absorbing, intense, and intoxicating…" —Manhattan Book Review (more...)
"Readers eager to hear young, antihero, Tom Robbins–esque lovers declare their adoration for each other will certainly find contentment within these pages. For those less intrigued by spunky love birds who insist “life is performance art”..., all is not lost. What helps to set the story apart from similar fare are the nuanced, often unexpected villains, animals, and Biblical allusions along the way. A boy-meets-girl tale that veers into strange avenues and offers a maelstrom of love-struck possibilities." —Kirkus Reviews
"Excels in the absurd and the hilarious..."—Portland Book Review
"Love and Other Pranks is, if anything, original… There’s adventure and romance on every page. What is more, Vigorito has a unique voice… His writing style bears many similarities to the late Terry Pratchett – mostly when it comes to the humorous flourish in his work... Excels in the absurd and the hilarious, which shine brightly in his dialogue, scene set-ups, and characters." —Portland Book Review
Prologue: In the Beginning
The first time Adam kissed Eve, she was brandishing a Granny Smith in her grin as if she had just bobbed it out of a cider barrel.
The first time Adam kissed Eve, she was brandishing a Granny Smith in her grin as if she had just bobbed it out of a cider barrel. Obviously, Adam could not proffer a proper kiss so long as Eve wielded that apple between her incisors, so clever Adam settled for lodging his teeth into the open end of her apple. Then he growled.
They had been flirting famously, and Adam had just announced his incipient kiss. Eve’s immediate response had been to wedge the fruit between her grinning teeth, presumably as an impregnable barrier. Not exactly a come-hither, but Adam chose to receive it as a dare, and really, there didn’t seem to be another option in any event.
Certainly, Adam could have accepted it as a cruel rejection and crept away, but that would have been unbearably craven. He also could have slapped the apple out of her sassy lips, though of course that would have been frightfully belligerent. Or, he could kiss her anyway—inasmuch as the circumstances would permit—and let neither fruit nor folly come between them.
Adam chose wisely. He knew this as soon as Eve overcame his apple-begotten audacity and growled right back at him. Actually, she snarled and tugged at the apple like a starving wolf, but Adam held on and gnashed back as if this frothing apple was indeed the last desperate scrap of carrion. Immediately, Adam realized that Eve’s apple-grappling technique was impressive, twisting her head and yanking suddenly sideways in her fierce attempts to rip the apple from his teeth. It was everything Adam could do to keep up, adjusting his pressure and pull against her ferocity and finding little opportunity to assert his own assault until an impulse suggested he cease the struggle and yield to that which he had been resisting. Thus informed, Adam pitched his face forward in instinctive jujitsu, slacking her yank and loosing her clench just long enough to successfully tear the apple free, at which point he crunched through his end triumphant and taunted the twice-bitten apple in his grasp.
Defiant, Eve chewed her chunk of apple like it was a wad of chaw in a quick draw.
Defiant, Eve chewed her apple like it was a wad of chaw in a quick draw. Adam flashed his teeth and imitated her in turn and they glared at each other eyes aflame until Adam tossed the fractured apple heavenward. Their eyes unwavering captured the pulse of one another’s lips swollen in mutual anticipation, and as the airborne apple touched the apogee of its ascent they at last dared mingle the nectar sweetening their tongues. Kissing their way into one another’s hearts, he sucked her upper lip and she nibbled his lower as the apple bonked off both of their skulls, though this kiss would not be dissuaded.
If their eyes had yet been open, they might have spied an angel and a devil toasting their kiss, eyes wild with mischief as if they had just lit a strip of firecrackers in a henhouse.
If only it had been so pointless a prank.
Part One: Yes, and Nectar
San Francisco, early 21st century
Truth be told, Adam’s name was Merlin—Merlin Otherwise—and he had been calling himself Adam that night only because that is how a couple costumed as an angel and a devil had earlier that evening addressed him. And truth again be told, Eve’s name was Lila—Lila Louise—and Lila was just being coy when she introduced herself as Eve in response to Merlin’s allegation of Adam on top of a gigantic and shimmering opalescent king cobra float on Halloween night in San Francisco. Lila and Merlin were in the Castro, atop the lead float in an illegal parade that had successfully revived the traditional Halloween-in-the-Castro street party banned by the city so many years ago, and when they kissed, a roaring cheer erupted from the assembled throngs. Naturally, it is possible and even probable that the crowd was cheering not their kiss but the fact that the flamethrower mounted in the king cobra’s mouth had just belched a tremendous blast of fire, but listen, who among us would question the mythos of love?
Lila noticed him immediately, though when he eventually approached she pretended otherwise.
Certainly not a pirate, which is how both Lila and Merlin were dressed. Merlin had swashbuckled his way onto the exclusive Bay Area hipster cobra float, uninvited and knowing nobody whatsoever but leaping aboard nevertheless as though he were its belated captain, black pirate shirt billowing open in the breeze, chest and face painted for the glory of Poseidon. Lila noticed him immediately, though when he eventually approached she pretended otherwise.
“We’ve met before, I’m certain,” Merlin opened, doing everything he could to avoid examining this redhead’s pirate getup, her own white pirate shirt billowing also wide-open to reveal a seashell bikini top, though even that enchantment was not so seductive as the golden pendant she mesmerized about her neck.
“I’m certain we have not,” Lila replied, tossing a Granny Smith in her grasp, an apple she’d been contemplating crunching into for the last half hour.
“I’m certain that we have,” Merlin insisted. “It was the eighteenth century, wasn’t it? Aboard that bastard Goldtooth’s man-o'-war? Somewhere off the coast of Bermuda?”
Lila toyed with her golden pendant, smiling, as she turned to face Merlin completely. “What is this nonsense which now confronts me?” she demanded.
“Yes,” Merlin pursued his bullshit concoction, encouraged. “I remember it all now. You jumped ship off Hispaniola with a group of runaway slaves, and so swift was your cutlass that no man dared touch you uninvited, let alone defy your assumed leadership. Then, the motley lot of you found your way back aboard your pig husband’s ship and overthrew him, for he was just an imperialist tool who’d kidnapped you from your village in Ireland and treated you like chattel. Plus, you wanted your own ship with which to make an honest living undermining the slave trade. Yar, always the principled pirate, you were. Flaming Jane, they called you. I’d recognize that flame of red hair anywhere, and still flaunting that Möbius band pendant, no less.”
Lila again touched her pendant, impressed that he knew of its geometry.
Lila again touched her pendant, impressed that he knew of its geometry. “Perhaps your story is true,” she played along, “but you still haven’t told me from whence I should know you. A swaggering hotspur like yourself, for all I know you could be one of Goldtooth’s scoundrels.”
“Savvy this,” Merlin grinned. “If I were one of his scoundrels, I would not have then warned you of his murderous intentions. And I have to say,” Merlin drew in close and lowered his breath. “Yours was a brilliant gambit, my lovely.”
Lila smiled, smitten. “And what was your name?”
“Crow, they called me then, though tonight I go by Adam. And what of you, Flaming Jane? What are you called in this go-round?”
“I suppose you can call me Eve,” Lila lied. “But one question remains unanswered.”
“And what might that be?”
Grinning sly, Lila pointed her apple at him. “I’m curious why I would have told some tangle-bearded traitor all of this?”
“Because.” Merlin straightened himself dignified. “We became lovers.”
Somewhere in the Caribbean, early 18th century
The gentle pitch of the ship oscillating across the waves that had lulled Crow into a fever-befuddled delirium now blindsided him wide awake. A rogue wave slammed into starboard like the pelt of a blue whale flung by a drunken pissed-off Neptune, cascading seawater everywhere and leaving cries of curse and alarm in its wake. Crow bolted upright and happened to catch a toppling hourglass just as Flaming Jane came banging into the captain’s quarters, though when Flaming Jane met Crow’s eyes, instead of apprehension and confusion she found only wonder.
“Tempt me with your outlaw apple,” Crow whispered the lyrics of the song that had serenaded his dreamscape into the waking world. “With eyes that flash so wild—”
“You’re okay,” Flaming Jane observed breathless, illuminating him with her lantern and steadying herself against the creaking moaning hull. “Your fever’s broken.”
“Answer me it’s oh so good with lips that dare and smile,” Crow continued reciting his dreamsong, embracing the hourglass as the ship’s thirty-pound Maine Coon mouser named Catface nuzzled against him. Pausing, Crow grew a smile. “As we lick yes, and nectar!”
Since Flaming Jane believed in the oracular power of dreams, she indulged his dreamsaying, though not his poetry. “No more poetry!” she demanded. “Tell me your dream! Quickly now, before it dissolves!”
Crow complied, still blinking wonder. “We were riding a white snake across the sea, and there was an angel—no, a devil—and I told you my name was Adam and you told me your name was Eve and you had an apple and we kissed and you told me you were a pirate and then I told you this wasn’t really happening.”
“What wasn’t really happening?”
“Life.” Crow paused, the dream vanishing into perplexity. “And then I told you there was something worth more than even gold.”
Though he obviously possessed the moxie somewhere within himself, Merlin was rarely so Casanova with women as he had been with Lila that Halloween, and was so that evening only because a couple of recently reunited matchmakers just in from New Orleans and costumed as an angel and a devil had earlier stepped in front of him, addressed him as Adam, handed him a bumper sticker upon which was printed the phrase ARGUE NAKED, and placed a little white pill impressed with a heart into his palm.
“What’s this?” Merlin inquired as he peered at the presumed tab of Ecstasy.
“Love,” purred the angel perfect.
“Chaos,” dared the devil baritone.
Merlin shook his head, an excessively bacchanalian youth having turned him off to drugs—or medicines, as they are euphemized in the Bay Area. “Thanks, but I don’t—” He offered the pill back to them.
The angel and the devil declined, chiming “Have a beautiful night!” as they disappeared into the crowd.
The angel and the devil declined, chiming “Have a beautiful night!” as they disappeared into the crowd, leaving Merlin alone to consider whether he should pop a pill given to him unsolicited by total strangers. He did not consider for long, for though he was in general grossed out by drugs and mistrustful of pressed pills in particular, and though it had been several years since he’d abandoned any experimentation with MDMA due to the effervescent terror of sadness it too often left in its heartbreaking wake, he had freshly lost the group of acquaintances with whom he’d come to the illegal Halloween parade and discovered immediately afterward that his cell phone battery had decided to take the night off. Having been wandering alone through the crowds wondering what he was supposed to do now, Merlin suddenly possessed an intriguing diversion.
However, despite the fact that the San Francisco Bay Area has maintained a tremendous appetite for its magical mystery medicines in the decades since its flower children wilted, the pill Merlin had been given was actually nothing more than a miniature vitamin C tablet supposedly enhanced with a single drop of a homeopathic love potion whose molecular structure had been tuned to the mystical resonance of the angel’s favorite Tibetan singing bowl. Whether or not that potion had anything at all to do with how the evening then transpired may never be known for certain, but the fact remains that within an hour Merlin was blasting around, rolling like he invented the wheel, uncontainably enthused as he drew smiles from everyone who witnessed him dance his way toward the front of the illegal parade. In his Tibetan singing bowl–tuned, placeboic intoxication, Merlin felt certain there was only one way to witness an illegal parade, and that was from the deck of its lead float. No barricade could convince him otherwise, and even the policewoman who stood in his path attempting to manage the crowds was so enchanted by his shining grin that she agreed to grant him passage, but only if he let her write the word PASSION across his chest with her fire-engine-red lipstick. Merlin consented yes of course, and though he could not have fathomed what this would eventually imply, there was but a moment’s retrospect before he understood that it was both invitation and invocation. But Merlin never paused to consider the nature of what it was he was inadvertently inviting and invoking upon himself that night. For that matter, he never even turned the pill over before he swallowed it.
If he had, he would have found another heart, broken in two.
“Quiver me timbers,” Lila murmured moments after her apple-sweetened kiss with Merlin had dissipated. Opening her eyes, she leaned in toward Merlin’s ear. “There is something you should know about me, however,” Lila whispered mischievous. “I sometimes hear music boxes in my mind.” In truth, Lila’s music boxes had fallen suddenly silent when they kissed, and it was precisely this that caused her to notice the resumption of their faraway, plinking chorus.
The imp she was referring to here was a little white pill impressed with a heart.
Merlin blinked, amused. “I shan’t be deterred.”
“Also,” Lila continued, “an imp has possessed me on this Halloween.” The imp she was referring to here was a little white pill impressed with a heart that the couple costumed as an angel and a devil had also given to her, but Lila did not elaborate her metaphor, and thus Merlin and Lila would not realize the coincidence for quite some time.
Merlin smiled nonetheless at her revelation. “That’s nothing,” he shrugged. “I’ve been possessed by an imp since I was nine years old.”
Lila grinned. “I can’t wait to hear that story.”
“As it happened,” Merlin launched, unhesitant upon her prompt, “I had recently finished reading Tom Sawyer, and I was thinking about how that rascal Tom had so much more fun than I did. Up until then, see, I was a well-behaved, straight-A teacher’s pet, obviously a precocious reader, and lying in bed one night I somehow came around to the conclusion that I needed more mischief in my life. I’m nine years old, remember, and this was some kind of a major epiphany for me. I even said it out loud, announcing it into the nighttime, and the next thing I knew my skin was crawling with goose bumps and this jolt of fright shot through me as I all of a sudden imagined that I saw a jaguar lunge at me out of the darkness of the night—”
“A jaguar?” Lila interrupted.
“Some kind of a jaguar,” Merlin nodded. “But all its spots were like eyes. And that of course yelped me right out of bed and bawled me down the hallway, where it took my parents a half an hour to calm me down.” Merlin leaned in close and lowered his voice to a whisper. “But from that night forward, an imp seemed to have possessed me. I became an unmanageable terror to my parents and teachers, a real hellion.”
“A hellion, huh?” Lila nodded with faux gravity.
“I tell you.”
“Have you considered an exorcism?”
Merlin shook his head. “Not a chance. I’m having way too much fun.”
Lila grinned again. “There’s something else you should know about me.”
“Anything, my lovely.”
“My name isn’t really Eve,” Lila confessed. “It’s Lila. Lila Louise.”
“The beautiful Lila.” Merlin smiled. “Well,” he matched her, “I suppose I should mention as well that my name isn’t really Adam. In fact it is Merlin. Merlin Otherwise.”
Lila’s smile broadened. “Aren’t we just a couple of pranksters?”
“You have no idea,” Merlin cautioned. “Laughter is the highest prayer, after all.”
And aren't the children snickering in the pews the holiest people in Church?
“Oooo,” Lila cooed. “And aren't the children snickering in the pews the holiest people in church?”
Merlin raised his eyebrows. “Blessed are the pure in heart—” he began.
“For they shall see God,” Lila finished his beatitude.
Merlin blinked, and smiled through his words. “God be praised, and who has time for church?” They beamed at one another, speechless for several moments, until Merlin bowed handsome. “And how do you spell the beautiful Lila?”
“With as many l’s as thou darest lilt off thy sapling tongue.”
“A poetess as well?” Merlin grinned. “Since we’re being so ruthlessly honest here, there is one other thing you should know about me.”
“I don’t believe this is really happening.”
“This mortal apparition.”
Life is an impermanent prank at the end of the day, isn’t it?
“Ah, if by life you mean the ego’s denial of death, then life is an impermanent prank at the end of the day, isn’t it?” Lila smiled.
“The ego’s denial of death,” Merlin repeated, nodding. “A vital clarification.”
“Only a fool would take such a tawdry tale for the truth,” Lila continued. “And we are not fools.”
“No, we are not fools. But I am a pirate.”
“As am I.”
“I don’t always dress like this, though.”
“Subterfuge is essential.”
“Subterfuge is essential,” Merlin nodded. “Of course, once you realize that the ego’s pretense at life isn’t really happening, you discover that there’s really nothing but subterfuge.”
Lila nodded, noncommittal. “Actually,” she corrected, “there is something that’s really happening, and it is ever so much more than subterfuge. Wouldn’t you agree?”
Merlin paused a moment before nodding in comprehension. “Of course, my lady. And worth ever so much more than gold.”
It’s not easy being a redheaded pirate. The sun was merciless on Flaming Jane’s fair skin in the first place, and became all the more so when reflecting off the sea. Flaming Jane knew Providence was with her, however, when she happened to salvage a barrel of shea butter from a merchant ship on one of her earliest plunders. This—along with a collection of pirated parasols and a practice of war-painting their bodies flamboyant spectacular—sufficed for her sun protection.
Far more problematic than the sun, however, was the instant notoriety Flaming Jane’s red hair conveyed upon her. They could scarcely port anywhere without some seaman spying her sea-sprayed and tangled mane and recognizing her as the notorious Flaming Jane. Certainly, she could have shorn her flame of hair or taken care to hide it, but Flaming Jane was not one to capitulate to the dictates of lesser men. She embraced the epithet they dubbed upon her, and it only pleased her that the reward for her capture was twice and thrice that of far more successful buccaneers. Flaming Jane was no toothless and swill-sipping scoundrel, after all. She was an educated woman who defied her proper place as the property of her admiral husband who had kidnapped her from her village in Ireland, overthrowing his command and turning a stolen man-o'-war into a pirate ship full of runaway slaves, deserters, and other such ne’er-do-propers. Such matrimonial and nautical treachery could not go unpunished. Not in these imperial seas.
But none of these concerns fazed Flaming Jane now. She hastily unrolled a weathered goatskin and spread it upon the drawing table. “Look at this,” she said, stabbing her knife into the leather to hold it in place against the roll of the waves. Crow laid the hourglass he was still hugging on the bedding and balanced himself upright. He peered at the goatskin illuminated by her lantern.
“That’s a map,” Crow observed.
“Well hell have mercy!” Flaming Jane sassed loud. “Is that what this is?”
“Where did you get it?” Crow asked, ignoring her sarcasm.
Flaming Jane did not answer his question. “Look at this.” She instead tapped her index finger urgently, and Crow followed it to discover a serpent moving to swallow its own tail.
“That’s a serpent,” Crow observed again.
“Yes, lover. Your powers of observation are extraordinary.”
“Hey!” Crow retorted, raising his voice. “Cut me some slack, wench! This is the first I’ve stood in a bloody week!”
Flaming Jane smiled. She despised men that were spineless with women, and she constantly tested Crow on this. Much to her delight, he never failed to slap the sass off her lips—figuratively, of course, for she would have severed any hand that so much as cut a breeze across her freckled face. “Fair enough,” she granted. “But there’s hardly call to play hell about it.”
Crow pursed his lips and pointed to the map. “I suppose you also noticed that the serpent has twisted upon itself a hundred and eighty degrees, just like your pendant there?”
Flaming Jane instinctively touched the pendant around her neck, a pendant she had salvaged from a chest of plundered jewels. It was a simple band of gold with a half twist that gave it the curious property of having only one side. In fact Flaming Jane had not noticed this, though she did not let on, merely nodding instead. “And look at this,” she changed the subject, pointing earnestly to the top of the map, where it was scripted in French: Le Trésor de Tous les Trésors. Another hand had scrawled its English translation directly beneath it, in a darker, more recent ink than the rest of the faded map: The Treasure of All Treasures.
“The treasure of all treasures,” Crow murmured, then looked at Flaming Jane. “Worth more than even gold?”
Flaming Jane nodded, pointing to the right-hand side of the map. “Now look at this.”
“Yes,” she coaxed. “And this.” She pointed to the left-hand side of the map.
“A devil.” Crow paused. “Just like in my dream.”
“Just like in your dream,” Flaming Jane affirmed, her eyes sparkling sapphire in the light of the lantern as she quickly rolled up the map, but not before Crow’s eyes had caught a warning scripted in French across the open sea, another hand having scrawled its English translation alongside it:
Prends Garde au Pré des Merveilles.
Beware the Meadow of Marvels.