Friday, December 26, 2008

Hubert's Freaks by Gregory Gibson

What becomes of a small-time dealer in rare books when he stumbles upon a possible photographic goldmine?

This is the scenario of Hubert's Freaks, by Gregory Gibson.

While soul-searching his way through life, Robert Langmuir has always found himself with a love for African-Americana. In his continuing struggle to keep his used bookstore afloat, he traveled the east coast in search of both books for his shop and collectibles for his soul. Fate was on his side when he stumbled upon an auction of an abandoned storage unit. Among the many unusual circus style artifacts that were being snapped up by dealers was a trunk full of photos, notes and diaries. Seeing these photos, it became obvious that this storage unit belonged to an African-American performer. Time for Robert to feed his soul. He was able to acquire about half of these paper goods.

After getting his stock home he started looking through the details of what he had just acquired. Among these items was a date book. This date book represents a turning point in the life of Langmuir. An entry reading, "Diane Arbus, 131 1/2 Charles St, WA-4-4608., morns 8-10 eves 6-8". Even more incredibly, the handwriting differed from other writing on the page. It appeared (especially in the writing of the name itself) to be written in the hand of Diane Arbus! What did this mean to the photographs? Could they, too, be from the same hand? It became Robert Langmuirs "calling" to find out.

What follows is years of legal wranglings, attempts to authenticate the photos and a goal of selling the works for a deserved price.

This is a book about Robert Langmuir, his professional, personal and spiritual trails.

This is not a book about "Hubert's Freaks". For me, there is precious little information pertaining to this small, African American run, dime museum. The author touches on the fact that he took part in an interview with a relative of the show's proprietors, Charlie and Virginia Lucas, however, after the initial haggling as to the parameters of the interview, there are no details as to what was said. Considering Gibson does recognize the importance of this lost part of Americana, I found this disappointing.

As for the Arbus photos, are they in this book? I couldn't say. Looking at the photos that are here, and judging by the descriptions in the book and my own passing familiarity with the work of Diane Arbus, I'm inclined to say, "no". I found this a bit disconcerting. As I also found the placement of the photos that do appear throughout this work. The pictures that are present show up on pages long before or after the mention of their subjects. For me, as much as I'm not a fan of pictures being bunched up together in the center of a book, it would have made referencing them much easier. As it is, looking at the pictures in their correct context requires long gaps in reading to find the photo, or, as I eventually did, giving up on looking at them in context at all.

Title: Hubert's Freaks
Author: Gregory Gibson
Publisher: Harcourt, Inc.
ISBN: 978-0-15-101233-6


Cathy said...

At first as I was reading your review, I thought this might be a book I'd enjoy. Now I'm not so sure. The problems you mentioned would have me wanting to throw the book against the wall!

Pam T said...

Hello No-BS!

I stopped by to thank you for dropping by my blog, and for thinking of us with the award. Found two reviews I hadn't read yet. (ie, i got distracted:)

But thank you!!! It means alot to Don and I.