Friday, November 29, 2013

Patrick deWitt's "Ablutions": Book Review

I recognize the "anonymous smaller roads of the working class" taken by the narrator as he weaves his "magical Ford" junkheap home after his latest binge which nearly closes this short novel blearily or sharply told to us in the second tense. Many compare Patrick deWitt's debut to Charles Bukowski, but I favor deWitt's take on downbeat L.A. It's less self-indulgent if staggering around similar subject matter: an attempt to try to dramatize what happens in the dull hours and dramatic moments in a bar where I imagine no windows, a shadowy entrance door, and no clocks.

Most of the content--I hesitate to call it all action--occurs inside. When the novel gets outside in daylight, it's rare. Pedaling (rather than peddling) from what appears to be around Echo Park down Sunset to downtown L.A., the narrator tries to call out to the "night crawlers" on addict-ridden Broadway. "They are tired and uninterested in all you have seen or think you have seen. They have seen more and their eyes are not glowing golden but gray and lifeless." (35)

There's much anonymity despite the characters named and pegged by the barbacker's narrative. He knows them mainly or totally by their talk inside the bar, and this novel tries to show us what the protagonist knows. Not much of the outer world impinges, while his marriage falls apart, and this fits the self-absorbed claustrophobia. Only when his wife leaves him does he wander off on a Southwest binge in a rental car. This third section does not expand the inner state of the character much, but at least we leave L.A.

Pilfering and petty theft consume the teller. Part four builds up to a set scene which while to be expected in an experimental, artistically avant-garde novel may not satisfy the reader. This on reflection I reckon is intentional, but it does set the narrator off on another open-ended, unresolved quest. This novel, however brief, packs a lot in, and it took me a long time to read, as it forces you to slow down and imitate the sense of lost time and trapped sensations felt by anyone choosing to stay in such a bar, with only a few denizens as driven to drink as one's self, for whatever passes as the leisure time allotted those who populate this dreary, gloomy realm. (Amazon US 7-1-13)

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