A bar book. A rock-bottom to end all rock-bottom books. Reminiscent of Willy Vlautin’s Northline, deWitt’s first novel pulls no punches as it delves into the dark, grimy vomit filled life of out of control addicts. Bukowski would love it. Barfly II. Mickey Rourke needs a follow up to The Wrestler, no?
The narrator presents the book in a series of ‘notes’ for a future novel. Many sections begin “discuss”. Him or her. This or that. In this way we come to know the odd and bizarre mix of inhabitants of a Hollywood bar as seen through the eyes of a barkeep/dish-washer/helper whose life is swirling down the toilet.
DeWitt may not give us a comfortable setting or a familiar (I should hope not) milieu. But what he does give the reader is a whole series of diverse character sketches that seem familiar yet alien. This cannot have been easy. And as diverse and kooky as most of the characters are, they all seem to belong right where they are.
Back to Vlautin, because I think the similarities are interesting, but the differences are essential. There is a relentless spiral down in deWitt that is relieved by nothing at all. Bleak and bleaker (echoes of Bleeker and Obliquer from Arthur Phillips’ new novel, recently finished). Vlautin bleeds off the dark vision with a humanity and a humor that cannot be denied. Most of the people in Willy’s book, you’d probably like to have a few with. Not so with deWitt’s crew. They’re too unstintingly toxic. While characters in both books may be equally self-destructive, you may well weep for Willy’s. Hard to do that for deWitt’s.
Still, you’re unlikely to forget deWitt’s regulars anytime soon.