Oranges for Magellan by Richard Martin: 5*****

Flagpole sitting was the rage back in the 1920s, and author Richard Martin has brought that craze to the early 1980s in his new book “Oranges for Magellan”, a wonderful debut novel from this veteran writer. I’m not sure exactly what it is about flagpole sitting, but a lot of people have tried to break records for sitting on flagpoles. For many it becomes an obsession which is where we begin this book as Joseph Magellan is attending his graduation from anti-obsession seminars. Joe is in his mid 30s and has had a fetish about either climbing trees or going up flagpoles for most of his life. Unfortunately, despite graduating from this seminar Joe is not really cured of the obsession and a few days later he decides to once again tackle the world record that was currently held by Shipwreck Blake of 444 days. Yes, Joe Magellan is going to try to stay 70 feet in the air on a platform at the top of a flagpole for one more day then Shipwreck.

            The book has 123 chapters and therefore it is a fast read, and a book that has three narrators, as we see events unfolding from Joe’s eyes, along with that of his wife Clover and son Nate. Along the way Joe makes a myriad of friends and finds his family in and out of trouble but there’s nothing he can do because he’s stuck up on this flagpole because he is bound and determined to break the record of Shipwreck Blake. What do you do when you’re sitting on a flagpole? You can only look out over the skyline for so long, so he has a television set hoisted up to him, a radio, walkie-talkie, bullhorn, books, etc. all of which he eventually throws back down as he gets fed up with everything. Meanwhile his wife, Clover, has opened up a restaurant in the building on which the flagpole is situated. Once again, Joe is consternated by many things, but there’s nothing he can do without coming down. When she needs to borrow money to refurbish the restaurant she merely forges his signature, and when he complains about it she tells to him that if he doesn’t like it he should just come down and do something about it. But he can’t!

            The couple’s son Nate is going through some very difficult times himself due to adolescence as well as being picked up on for having a rather weird father. He picks up some of his father’s earlier habits and when he creates problems in school they’re resolved by Joe up on the flagpole in order that they can keep this news from Clover. But, lo and behold the principal wishes he could be the same place as Joe as he’s fed up with the situation in the schools. There are some hilarious moments in this as well as some revealing discussions about human behavior and the difficulty of the nuclear family when each person is doing something different without any help, guidance or assistance from the other parties in the family. Eventually Shipwreck Blake makes it up to the platform at the top of the flagpole and the two of them go from being adversaries to becoming friends. There’s also sponsorships that come Joes way because he is sitting on a flagpole, there are TV news reporters trying to make their career based on Joe’s efforts and, all in all it is an entertaining read. It is a unique book about a unique topic that was inspired by an article that the author read in the LA Times. and while flagpole sitting might not be your cup of tea, I think you will enjoy following the exploits of Joe Magellan and the family on their 445 day quest to break the flagpole sitting record.

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