Book of the Day: Patrick deWitt's Ablutions
Wed Feb 11 2009
Patrick deWitt's Ablutions is a whiskey-soaked novel, tracking the life of a frequently drunk L.A. bartender who serves washed-up stars and bleary-eyed hipsters, but its pleasures will be evident to drinkers, teetotalers and those in between. The story comes laced with some of the poor-judgment ethos that makes other down-and-out books so hilarious (Denis Johnson's Resuscitation of a Hanged Man comes to mind): At one point, deWitt's hero punches a horse in the face. But this isn't some hackneyed Bukowski-esque uplift-through-squalor. DeWitt writes with a style that's honest, compelling and hilarious, and he hits his topic from an artful slant. The entire novel is presented as a series of notes for a writing project—"Discuss Brent the unhappy doorman"—that go increasingly off the rails. The risk pays off. It captures the sensation of being drunk and haranguing yourself while staring in the mirror, nails a sort of unhinged ambition and hints at an entire other world—the one where the narrator might be if he ever got his shit together. DeWitt clearly has, writing a novel with a gripping surface, messy content and a provocative sense of worlds that might be.
Read an excerpt:
You drive home drunk at the end of each night but the police have never stopped you because your car, a 1971 Ford LTD, is magical. It is a twenty-minute drive through empty streets and highways from the bar to your home and by rights you should have been arrested a hundred times over, but the car's powers are such that even when police drive behind you they are rendered blind and deaf to your weaving and your squealing tires. You sometimes do not remember driving home at all and later find dents and scratches in the front and back fenders, but each morning you awake in your bed and not in a jail cell and you wonder if the car became magical only after you owned it or if it rolled off the assembly line this way.