FIRST HUBBY. By Roy Blount Jr. Villard Books. 286 pages. $18.95.
GUY FOX is America's first First Man. You know: First Person, First Gentleman, First Hubby, i.e., the husband of President Clementine. Here is a premise that has a lot of potential for cuteness, and "First Hubby" doesn't disappoint. Guy Fox (not to be confused with Guy Fawkes of the 'Gun-powder Plot') bitches, sulks, cries, fakes orgasms and even laments, 'Damn, I sound like a wife."
Blount, an acclaimed humorist, chose an obvious and well-worn vehicle for his first novel. Too bad. Perhaps he didn't realize that television had beaten him to it in an ill-fated series starring Patty Duke. And after reading "First Hubby," one can make a solid case for watching more television.
All right, we have a catchy title; so what happens next? Unfortunately, not much. Blount, who is more accustomed to essay-long discourses, rambles about, teasing us with bits of information (without filling us in fully until later in the book) and pulling lame gags out of his word processor.
For example, at Clementine's inauguration, what do you think that wacky Guy does? Here's a hint: It's cute. Here's another: Holden Caufield beat him to it 39 years ago in a similarly solemn scene in "The Catcher in the Rye." Guy breaks wind.
(This might be the proper moment to mention that Blount's name and that of Mark Twain appear close together twice in the jacket notes. The publisher describes him as the "man often called the 20th century Mark Twain." One wonders, how often and by whom? Had the word "hype" not already entered the language, this phrase might have been the catalyst.)
Meanwhile, back in our own galaxy: The book does have its moments. Blount can be witty and even funny. Gorbachev dating Susan Sarandon is a nice touch, as is Marilyn Quayle hiding out in Libya. The author can bring off insight and humor. Too often, however, these are oases amid the drifting prose and plot.
The essayist also has written his novel without shifting gears. The book is organized in short (the shortest is one-word long), dated, diary-like entries. It's probably easier that way, just as Guy Fox, witty Southern writer, conveniently resembles Roy Blount Jr.
When Blount isn't being funny, he is often trying to be. Take the fish caper, for example. Clementine's predecessor was killed by a fish. No, not a Great White Shark but a 13-pound porgy. The reader only learns this in bits and pieces through-out the book.
Here's the deal: President DaSilva was hit on the head by a fish that dropped from the sky - this is how Vice President' Clementine became president and no one knows how, much less why. The nearest porgy habitat is 105 miles from Washington. It is simply one of those unexplained phenomena one reads about on the front pages of supermarket tabloids.
"First Hubby" begins with a flashback to the equally implausible moment when Guy and Clementine met. "The first time I saw her she was naked, except for pearls and the look in her eye. My thoughts, as best I can reconstruct them, were: "What, Hm. Well.'"
I'm not sure which is worse: if the author labored over these lines or simply dashed then off, thinking, "Close enough." There is an annual contest now in which people compete to write the worst first lines of a novel. The principal difference between Blount and these ambitious contestants is that the latter stop writing after a few dubious sentences.
David Holahan writes from East Haddam, Conn.