Monday, February 16, 2009

Ablutions, Notes for a Novel

Publication Date: February 18, 2009

Provided free from Amazon Vine
Given the major cutbacks among the big publishing houses and the tendency over the past decade or so to go with the promise of commercial success, I am very surprised that Ablutions by Patrick deWitt found a publisher outside the small presses. That isn't a criticism. It's just that the style is somewhat experimental and the author's prior publishing credits––three in all––were not exactly in top-tier literary journals.

"Notes for a Novel" is an accurate description of what is mostly vignettes centered around the life of an alcoholic and substance abusing bartender working at a well-known but now seedy Hollywood bar. That format along with the second person point of view (you), which I can enjoy in short pieces but often find tedious in a novel, had me convinced I'd hate this. Instead it pulled me in, so much so that I felt so creepy-crawly and grimy I wanted to take a shower, but I couldn't put it down. Scary to think––but no doubt true––that so many people drive our highways with that much booze and narcotics in their systems. And not to give anything away, but I hope the first thing this guy did with his money was visit a good dentist.

I can imagine the author struggling to shape all these notes into a compelling novel, then giving up and deciding to just work at threading them together. The result is something masterful that would have come off rather prosaic had he stuck to a standard form. Ablutions has the potential to become one of those breakout word-of-mouth novels like A Confederacy of Dunces, only happily the author is still with us to enjoy the praise.

At 163 pages, Ablutions is a one-nighter if you can handle the intensity, but however long you take, it's well worth your time.


Kathryn Magendie said...

wow - all in second peson - I have a hard time with second person, too, unless its in very small doses and done very well --hmmm, sounds intriguing, though....!

Nannette Croce said...

Recently I wrote a couple of shorts in second person. It just sort of happened, but novel length is different. In this case the novel is essentially notes the author wrote to himself so it was more like talking to himself and the second person felt natural. In a more standard narrative, I don't think it would work as well.

CashewElliott said...

This intrigues me.

Nannette Croce said...

I'm the world's toughest critique in case you haven't noticed. The first couple of pages I was thinking, you've got to be kidding me. The next think I knew I was totally immersed in it.