Ablutions: Notes for a Novel
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Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

3.63 of 5 stars 3.63  ·  rating details  ·  1,751 ratings  ·  245 reviews
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 continu...more
Hardcover, 162 pages
Published February 28th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published January 1st 2009)
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Sean Beaudoin
I've said in other reviews that I could pretty much go the rest of my life without reading another novel set in a bar. And this one does have all the bar-book cliches: the surly bartender, the sad drunken teachers, the deteriorating regulars, the old lady that's really a man, the friendly homeless guy, the former child actor, the solo road trip. With all that said, I still really enjoyed it. The voice is rendered in a deadpan-poetic style that manages to feel fresh. The details all feel authenti...more
Paul
Patrick deWitt's first novel is truly a theatre of the absurd. In such finely tuned prose, deWitt gracefully synthesizes so many contradictions. It is a dark book with characters swimming in despair and on desolation row, blotting out their crises and lost dreams in booze and drugs. But in this cesspool of tragedy and nothingness is a book that so funny, so beautiful, and brutally revelatory of what may lie beneath the bowels of the human condition. This book is both real and surreal at the same...more
Sam Quixote
I used to really love boozy, druggy novels when I was a teenager, regularly devouring books by Charles Bukowski, William Burroughs, Jack Kerouac, Hubert Selby Jnr. and Patrick Hamilton where the protagonists were either alcoholics, drug addicts or both. But that was when I was a teenager and my literary tastes have since changed. So I was surprised to find myself drawn into Patrick deWitt’s debut novel “Ablutions” which takes place almost entirely in a dismal Hollywood bar filled with deadbeats...more
Brad
I am not sure who this book is for. If it is for the sort of people it is written about, I am guessing they are too far gone to read the book. If it is intended as a cautionary tale for the people who are on the path of alcoholism, it's going to be a difficult, emotional read (made much worse by deWitt's decision to write in a second person narrative). If it is for anyone else, I can't see them enjoying the read. Ablutions Notes for a Novel is not entertaining. In fact, I'd say it is one of the...more
Melissa
This book is a doozy. It's one that I hesitate to give four stars, since I felt unclean after I read it, but dammit, I also loved it a lot. Brilliant writing, depravity, darkness, hilarity, all the good stuff. Also can be read in about two straight hours. No complaints.
Lisa
It is going to be very difficult to explain this book so I might have to amend this review after I've had time to process - I only finished reading just now having started it this morning (what a lovely way to spend a sunday!).

It is about a bartender with a drink and drugs problem observing others with drink and drugs problem.

 photo drunk_zps6b72ee7b.jpg

I mean we are talking serious problems here.

The writing is lucid and his observations astute, but it is a sad, sad story.

I am finding it almost impossible to articulate wh...more
Kevin
I predict this book is going to rock a few worlds when it appears next month. deWitt, a new Portland author, writes convincingly, hypnotically, and often humorously in an odd (but freakishly natural-sounding) 2nd person narrative voice. This is lowlife gutter drunk bar life in a revealing light--a place where the bartender ("you") are more wretched than the customers, of course until you make your great escape. A superb little debut.
Tyler
3.5/5

I think Patrick deWitt is a talented writer. He has a good vocabulary and there is poetry within his words. In Ablutions he uses second person and a deadpan delivery which lends a kind of apathy and disconnect from the entire experience, but not in a bad way. If you've ever had the feeling that can basically be summed up as, "fuck it," then you can relate and see the motives/personalities of the people in this book.

It's grimy, sexy, funny and sad, just like a bar. He hits the atmosphere pre...more
Mike Van Campen
This near-novel presents the reader with a barman observing the depressing lives of the alcoholics and drug addicts who come to the seedy bar where he works. Having worked in the bar for six years, the main character (only identified as a second person "you") has allowed himself to gradually adopt behaviors similar to the customers. This is far from a good thing. As he drinks himself into oblivion behind the bar, his life disintegrates; the most notable evidence of this is the break-up of his ma...more
beentsy
The writing is gorgeous, so clear and descriptive. You can almost smell/taste/touch everything in this book. You wouldn't want to mind you, because almost everything in this story is truly nasty and an example of all the most base things humans are capable of doing to each other and to themselves. Spiraling out of control really.
Carlos
this was good. for the people who described this as bukowski lite...i guess i agree. I've only read one bukowski book and it was indeed a little dark. this book's main character was someone you assume is a good guy who's gone down a dark path, and you root for him. or at least I did.
christa
There are a few things that make me leery when reading a debut novel: 1) When one of the blurbs is by someone who is listed in the acknowledgments (Well that was nice of your friend/writing mentor/college roommate Dennis Cooper to say he loves this book very much); 2) When the book is, oh, say, about a bartender, and in the author's short bio on the back flap it says, for instance " ... Oregon, where he currently resides ... blah blah ... has worked as ... a bartender."

Patrick DeWitt probably co...more
VWrulesChick
Wow, the writing is so gritty and raw, as you take a look into a want-a-be writer who loses himself to alcohol, drugs, his marriage and self-worth. The way the novel is written as a writer to himself as he puts ideas together, where his explanations are sometimes funny in a truthful manner. Definitely not for the faint of heart when you read about his situations he finds himself in at times. Short and easy read.
Patrick O'Neil
Patrick deWitt's Ablutions is bleak and his minimalist style does nothing to dispel the bleakness – in fact it promotes it. There's endless dark vignettes, vile sexual encounters, and character studies of the bar patrons and his life as a bartender/bar back (it is never quite clear what he does, except drink a lot). His dismal relationships, or lack there of, dominate the plot – although in all fairness, there isn't any plot per say, as the subtitle of the book explains these are: Notes for a No...more
heather
A terrifying book whose true grace is its absolute, whiskey sodden realism, that refuses to even offer the beleaguered narrator cheap resolution through the conventional routes-- or the quite strange routes the narrator seeks. We keep reading not because we await the narrator's redemption but because we sense DeWitt's gritty, tragic universe is one where each act blooms into its inevitable conclusion, in a worse way than we could have imagined. I kept questioning my motives as I read. Am I a sad...more
Diarmuid Hester
Mildly entertaining story about the life of an alcoholic bartender and his clientele. The author's use of the second-person serves to interpellate the reader as narrator while the atomised, aposiopetic narration withholds any ultimate immersion in this identity: i.e. it is by turns attractive and repellent - a formal device which serves to substantiate a persistent moral vacillation (in the protagonist; in the reader).

In spite of this, Ablutions doesn't really have much to recommend it: it is n...more
Chad
I don't think it gets better than this piece of alcoholic/bar literature. "Ablutions" is sick, depraved, hilarious and poignant all at the same time. This book is a feat... a triumph, and deWitt should be hailed as a new voice in underground literature. I know what you're thinking... Great, some hipster writer who worships Bukowski and struggles to come up with his own sad sack of a story. And yes, I was skeptical, and it would be easy for me to label Patrick deWitt, the author of this gem, a me...more
Ken
For his first novel Patrick Dewitt has dredged the drunken swamp of his bar hall years and his own imagination to bring to the surface a gang of dark bar fly characters that were born by some of most memorable language I've read this year. In any novel. We are led through this journey, a swirling toilet flush of a downward spiral, by the bar back at a once famous Hollywood bar. He introduces us to the regulars which are overall a seedy bunch but each one fascinating in their own way. The bar is...more
Clifdisc
Ablutions is Patrick deWitt's first novel, a darkly comedic look into the decaying lives of LA barflies written from the perspective of an equally self-destructive bar-hand. The novel is written in second person narrative which has the disturbing effect of putting you in the protagonist's unpleasant and increasingly ugly skin.

I love Patrick deWitt's tone which is by turns humorous, melancholy, whimsical, dark and surreal. The book is at its best when this tone elevates the mundane to the mystica...more
Darwin8u
This is a novel equally about hating work and loving booze. No. That isn't true. This is a novel that is about hating work and drinking booze and hating yourself. It belongs on your untidy shelf next to Under the Volcano, Leaving Las Vegas, Appointment in Samarra and Tender is the Night. IT is a fuzzy, high-energy migrane of a novel and that is part of its clouded brilliance.
Craig
absolutely brutal. there is gallows humor that allows you to lose and then catch your breath for the unrelenting parade of unloved figures. you could not invent this set of characters if you tried. this is lived in.
Annabel Smith
This is the second DeWitt novel I have read and I hereby proclaim him The King of Voice.

This story, if it could even be called that, is told in the second person through the eyes of an alcoholic bartender. It is a black comedy, about as black as they get. The characters, including our narrator, are universally awful: they lie, they cheat, they back-stab each other, their lives are so sordid. It shouldn't be funny. But it's actually hilarious, in a deadpan broken-hearted way.

DeWitt does some of...more
The Nate Gatsby
Well, I'm not exactly sure what to think about this book. I'm not sure there was really a solid plot, I'm not sure there was a moral, and I'm not sure there was a reason for it all together. Yet throughout the book I was entertained by the complete randomness of it all. I actually enjoyed the book. I guess when I don't understand a book and it generally just goes over my head, I just assume that it was a great book and that I was just not smart enough to realize it. Either way, I'll give this bo...more
Alphjohn
‘Ablutions’ by Patrick deWitt is a work of fiction. It is the older and less acclaimed sibling of ‘The Sisters Brothers’.

I like a work that sets out its stall from the outset and this one did. First lines intrigue me more than they should:

‘Discuss the regulars. The sit in a line like ugly, huddled birds, eyes wet with alcohol.’

That worked for me.

This is a well written work to my eye but one that is also unremittingly grim. Spent bottles, fractured lives and diseased livers, such is the detritus...more
Jane Hammons
Notes for a Novel is a good subtitle for this book that reads more like a series of very dark vignettes set in a bar and sometimes on the streets of Los Angeles. Think Barfly & Bukowski. The characters are interesting, despite being a bit stock. I often don't finish books that don't have much of a plot, but this book is short and it's beautifully written. And damn, you can't beat that cover with a stick. I'm hoping for a bit more from his new book The Sisters Brothers.
Neil Powell
A funny, horrific and surreal trip into the mind of one alcoholic bartender and the relationships he has with his clientele and wife. The 2nd person narrative is a little odd to begin with, but fits perfectly with the journey the bartender makes into addiction. You feel like you’re making the trip with him. In this respect it reminded me of American Psycho, horrid and hilarious in equal measure

It’s a little depressing, but I enjoyed it thoroughly
Mark Vrabel
Discuss this book, and your inability to decide how many stars to give it. On the one hand, it wasn't groundbreaking, the story wasn't especially riveting, and the characters were largely unsympathetic. Many reviewers cite Bukowski books as more praiseworthy barroom works, even if it isn't exactly a fair, apples-to-apples comparison. On the other hand, something about reading the narrator's detached observations of the self-hating, self-destructive behavior of lost souls (including his own) does...more
Bryan Wood
Ablutions was a quick and enjoyable read of just over 160 pages revolving around a bartender's experiences at the dying Hollywood bar he halfheartedly serves. The pill popping self serving bartender takes full advantage of his job indulging in all the free Jameson Irish whiskey his liver can handle as well as well as taking advantage of the usual colorful cast of alcoholics that come in and out of the bar. Written as if the bartender is taking notes for a future novel, the book dives in and out...more
Christine
I am in two minds about this book. Just recently I finished 'The Sisters Brothers' which had a very Quentin Tarantino feel to it, and I immediately wanted to know what else this author had written. I had heard that Ablutions was a semi autobiographical take on the life of a bartender and I thought I'd give it a try. Written in the second person where he refers to himself not as I but as You, it completely threw me off guard. After a few pages I got used to this style of writing but I feel that i...more
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Patrick deWitt was born on Vancouver Island in 1975. He is the author of Help Yourself Help Yourself (2007, Teenage Teardrops), Ablutions (Feb. 09, Houghton-Mifflin Harcourt/Granta), which was named a New York Times Editors' Choice book, and The Sisters Brothers (May 2011, Ecco/House of Anansi). He lives in Portland, Oregon, with his wife and son.
More about Patrick deWitt...
The Sisters Brothers Help Yourself Help Yourself Braća Sisters Electric Literature no. 3 (Volume 1) The Minus Times Collected: Twenty Years / Thirty Issues (1992–2012)

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“Work will drive you crazy if you let it.” 5 likes
“I hope he dies out there," you say, and you laugh-sputter at the statement because it is a terrible thing to have said aloud and you hope you can play it off as a joke but Simon is staring hard at you, and now he knows for a fact something he has suspected for years, which is that you have a streak of hate in your heart and that it is deep and wide and though you have hidden it, it is unmistakably uncovered now, and he will never feel that previously mentioned fondness for you again [...]” 4 likes
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