In a famous but declining Hollywood bar works A Barman. Morbidly amused by the decadent decay of his surroundings, he watches the patrons fall into their nightly oblivion, making notes for his novel. In the hope of uncovering their secrets and motives, he establishes tentative friendships with the cast of variously pathological regulars .But as his tenure at the bar continues, he begins to serve himself more often than his customers, and the moments he lives outside the bar become more and more painful: he loses his wife, his way, himself. Trapped by his habits and his loneliness, he realizes he will not survive if he doesn't break free. And so he hatches a terrible, necessary plan of escape and his only chance for redemption.
Step into Ablutions and step behind the bar, below rock bottom, and beyond the everyday take on storytelling for a brilliant, new twist on the classic tale of addiction and its consequences.
Books narrated by the author carry a special promise, a promise not always kept to hear the text as spoken by its creator suggests that the listener will have a heightened experience of the story. In Ablutions, Patrick deWitt’s depressed drone projects the listless entropy of the committed barfly: his flat inflections are aimed squarely at the bottom of the glass, down among the dregs. It’s an apt choice: the narrator can’t seem to find the energy to leave his bar-bound existence, to make good by his wife and climb out of the rut.
There are unavoidable parallels with Bukowski, but these are superficial. This book is about the thirst for escape from loneliness and from crushing routine, a thirst that is denied relief by deWitt’s joyless delivery. There is also a rich eye for detail: in a world where everything is blurred, the character sketches are vivid, like etchings drawn on the back of a dampened coaster. Regulars and freeloaders, dealers and thieves, has-beens and wannabes all parade for our benefit in a never-ending circle. The alcoholism and associated bad behavior aren’t the main draw here; it’s the colorful interrelations of the bar’s patrons, their need to foster ersatz friendships, bond over booze, and drink away the loneliness. Even the introduction of a supernatural element suggests that deWitt is more interested in commenting on a kind of spiritual vacuum. He is like an anthropologist looking at the bizarre behavior of a subterranean species, through a glass, darkly. He wants to try and understand these regulars in an attempt to understand himself, and whatever keeps him tied to this dead-end life. “You want to know what it is about their existence that fuels the need to inhabit not just the same building every night, but the same bar stool, on which they sip the same drink.”
While there is no judgement of the characters, there is precious little empathy in Ablutions, which serves to alienate. But the pictures deWitt creates are so vivid, like flashbacks to a night of debauchery; you’ll be glad that you dropped by, even happier to leave. Dafydd Phillips
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A fuzzy, high-energy migrane of a novel.
- Darwin8u "I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it. - Salinger ^(;,;)^"
I wish I read this book rather than listened to it