By Padgett Powell. Ecco, $24.
Well? Shall we go?
Yes, let’s go.
This little bastardization of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot isn’t just a plot synopsis of Padgett Powell’s latest fictional jaunt—it’s a reflection of the gamesome tone his book strikes with its direct artistic forefather. You & Me is a novel in dialogue: Two old men with only one another for company, chew the fat. The fat itself? Sex, politics, pop culture, language and the benefits of attaching a saddle pommel to one’s underpants. By the end, the chattering, nameless duo wait to see which will befall them first: death or madness. It’s an existential “Who’s on First?,” performed with a wackadoodle grin and a Southern drawl.
As with Powell’s unique 2009 experiment, The Interrogative Mood—a plotless novel written as a series of questions—You & Me eschews narrative in favor of philosophical and comical conceits. It fails, however, to deliver either the sense of intimacy or surprise the former title achieved. The characters, who do admittedly little to distinguish their voices from each other, are lyrically gifted, restless, clever and odd—what they are not is endearing. The more these yokel savants invent companions (such as their beloved imaginary dog, Studio Becalmed), spit non sequiturs and rant, the more the book feels like an endless torrent of verbiage. This is part of the point, yes, but a reader’s enjoyment of the novel will depend on his or her patience for wading through it while waiting for the guys to stumble onto something memorable. Either You or Me says it best: “I like to get worked up about that, since it’s useless to get worked up about that.”