Amusing but occasionally tiresome, much like a visiting three-year-old. At least it doesn’t insist on petting the dog who would rather remain untouched. It reminds me somewhat of the famous male writers I read in the late 80s: Tom Robbins, Updike–kind of clever but more than a little fixated on females and the possibility of sex.
A cop calls Wiley Moss to let him know his father has died:
“If you hadn’t told me he was dead, I never would have known he was alive.”
The cop went silent a moment. I heard ice tinkle in a glass. Part of a country song. The man was in a bar somewhere. Neon signs, something with horns on the wall. He had told me his name was R.J. You can’t trust a man with initials for a name.”
The phone call send Moss hurrying down to Galveston, Texas (“in the Southwest somewhere“). He leaves his girlfriend, Giselle, behind with few regrets; before long he’s oogling a beautiful copper-haired woman on a plane as he tries to ignore his seatmate, Chicken Man, who has some quality advice about fluids: “He held up his empty plastic glass. ‘Whiskey is made from pure natural grain. Straight from Mother Earth. Toss out that juicer and get yourself on the road to health.” Moss is soon careening from one disaster to another, meeting acquaintances of his father and trying to understand the life he was living as he works out who would want to kill him.
The plotting is straight from the school bumbling interloper who stumbles into a situation much larger than himself and basically only works out what is going on through dumb luck. Unfortunately, there’s a bit at the end that doesn’t quite satisfy–if you every read this, look me up and we’ll talk. Suffice it to say that it won’t work for fans of the definitive. I don’t think. Unless I read it wrong.
Characters are all rather fascinating, if a bit extreme. Sadly, Moss is not a particularly likeable lead. He’s clueless, both needy and hostile, and spends far too much time thinking about how attractive the female characters are. I found myself most drawn to a deaf child, Git, who was easily the most cheerful, clever and gentle person in the book.
What I most enjoyed about it was Barrett’s writing, an interesting mixture of description and fragments that often segued off into imagination without any clear markers. It is deceptively simple and able to evoke emotion without specifics. By far the most enjoyable aspect of the story is the extreme characters and their banter. Written in 1996, I experienced a surreal moment when I read: “Chicken Man tried to grin. He had a little mouth like Donald Trump. Donald Trump can’t hardly grin at all.” I’m also a sucker for a caper, and this has a feeling of mad-cap adventure about it. However, like a visiting three-year-old, I was worn out after a relatively short time. I read this one over a number of days and thus was able to enjoy it instead of sliding into exasperation.
Two-and-a-half stars, rounding up for making me laugh.