Since reading The Sisters Brothers and having a small portion of it permanently stamped on one of my appendages, I’ve been keeping Patrick deWitt’s first (and only other) book, Ablutions, in my peripheral vision. I knew I should read it, but I was worried deWitt would retroactively let me down . . . or something equally irrational and reeking of reader's entitlement.
I won’t pretend I wasn’t a little disappointed by this book, but my love for deWitt’s words and the way he arranges them in impactful, no-frills sentences remains unchanged. If anything, he’s proven that he is, unequivocally, one of my favorite writers. Otherwise, I could never forgive him for writing an entire novel in SECOND-PERSON PRESENT TENSE.
The protagonist is you, and you are an aging, directionless man who works as a barback in a Hollywood dive. You drink a lot of free whiskey on the job and eat aspirins like candy. Your liver is in dire straits, and you drive home drunk almost nightly. You think you’re hiding all this self-destructive behavior from your wife because you’re a trained silent vomiter, but all you're really doing is deluding yourself while she steadily loses faith in you. In the mundane activities of your daily life, you provide a crushingly accurate narrative of addiction—highs and lows that quickly become mostly lows; inconsequential, ludicrous observations punctuated by occasional nuggets of transcendental truth.
Looking up at the sky you decide you will ride your bicycle to and from work every night. In a month's time you will be in excellent physical shape and your eyes will glow golden with all they have seen.But a short while and several drinks later, your ambitions have changed somewhat.
There is a mantle of dust covering everything in your room and a group of holes pockmark the wall above the headboard of the bed; seven holes, each punched with a small blunt tool from the inside out. You fill these with tissue paper, worrying as you work that you will find an evil eye hovering in the darkness. Standing back to look at your handiwork you say to the wall, “Wall, I have made you ridiculous.”The kernels of what deWitt would achieve with his second book are present and accounted for here, but they’re harder to swallow in this form. Basically, if The Sisters Brothers was deWitt doing Cormac McCarthy or Charles Portis, Ablutions is deWitt doing Charles Bukowski or Hunter S. Thompson. And that means spending a lot of time with an unlikable protagonist who makes terrible choices.
|Well, mostly terrible choices.|