I read this when it came out and was a little underwhelmed, but I enjoyed it a lot more the second time through. I think it works best when you just tI read this when it came out and was a little underwhelmed, but I enjoyed it a lot more the second time through. I think it works best when you just think of it as a set piece: Southern California as the 60's break into the 70's. On this level, it works really well, exploring the cultural climate of the time and even dropping in some intimations of how it would all play out in our own present (the ARPAnet stuff, for instance). The biggest problem with the book, however, is that it's also at least nominally a detective novel, and it doesn't work very well on that level. For one thing, Doc doesn't do a whole lot of detecting. He puts most of the disparate strands of the plot together simply by coincidentally being hired by four or five separate people who are all connected to the main plot in conveniently disparate ways. There was also a lot of stuff left underdeveloped here. But let me try to summarize first, just to see if I can do it. What follows contains spoilers.
(view spoiler)[Plot A. The Murder of Glen Charlock/The Disappearance of Mickey Wolfmann Glen Charlock, in order to join the Aryan Brotherhood, asks Tariq Khalil to kill a snitch on his (Glen's) behalf. In exchange, he promises to supply guns to a group of black militants with whom Tariq is connected. Glen is able to provide these guns because of his connection to the Golden Fang, a crime syndicate mostly concerned with heroin at every level from its production in Vietnam to helping rehabilitate addicts, and which also seems to have connections to the FBI. This obviously is not pleasing to the Aryan Brotherhood, though it's unclear how they find out, and Glen is also not in the good graces of the Golden Fang, so when he gets out of prison and becomes a bodyguard for real estate Mickey Wolfmann, the Golden Fang have him killed by members of a paramilitary police reserve group run by the Golden Fang. Mickey apparently wasn't supposed to see this, and so he is whisked away by the FBI, who are unhappy to learn that he has had a hippified revelation about the evil of charging people for shelter and that he plans to build a free-living community in Nevada, so they send him to Chryskylodon, a rehabd facility run by the Golden Fang, in order to have him reprogrammed into being a good capitalist.
Plot B. The Resurrection of Coy Harlingen Coy Harlingen, a heroin-addicted saxophone player, joins Vigilant California, a GOP activist group, also run by the Golden Fang, who want to use him as a plant and a snitch. They help him fake his death with the help of a Golden Fang connected heroin dealer who owes money to a loan shark named Adrian Prussia. Coy goes to Chrysklyodon for rehab.
Plot C. The Death of Detective X Bigfoot Bjornsen's partner, Vincent Indelicato, was killed by Puck Beaverton, an employee of Adrian Prussia. Puck along with Glen Charlock was one of Mickey Wolfmann's bodyguards, though he wasn't there the day of Glen's death. Adrian is also seemingly connected to the Golden Fang, as he has a lot of their heroin in his house, but it's not exactly clear to me how. He doesn't elsewhere seem to be connected to drug-dealing.
Plot D. The Disappearance of Shasta Fay Hepworth Um, the Golden Fang put Shasta Fay on a schooner called the Golden Fang soon after Mickey's disappearance, for some reason? And they don't really seem to care when she gets away and heads back home? She also was the one who hooked Coy up with Vigilant California, as she was acquainted with the former owner of the Golden Fang schooner, who also turned snitch.
I guess my biggest problem was that the initial solution to Mickey's disappearance seemed plausible: his wife Sloane and her boyfriend had a scheme to have him committed to get his money. Sloane gave a giant check to Chryskylodon, for instance, and apparently approached Shasta Fay about her plan. But then it turns out it was the FBI who put him in Chryskylodon, without ever going back and explaining what was really up with Sloane? Okay. Also, what was up with the Nixon-faced dollars. Seems like a plot thread that could have gone somewhere but didn't. Oh well. (hide spoiler)]["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>["br"]>...more
I haven't read much by Self before, and I don't often read any fiction before it's at least ten years old (not a conscious decision; it just seems toI haven't read much by Self before, and I don't often read any fiction before it's at least ten years old (not a conscious decision; it just seems to work out that way) but this novel was a surprising treat. It doesn't start off in the strongest way, kind of a tough slog for the first fifty pages maybe, but it's one of the more impressive contemporary novels I've read. It's self-consciously Joycean, particularly in the way it uses stream of consciousness. It's also a challenging book (no chapter breaks, switching between three different time periods often in the middle of a sentence), but it gets easier to follow as you get used to it (and as Self, I think, tones down the difficulties that make the first bit a slog). I usually like a little more humor in a novel (not that it's humorless), but otherwise it's pretty great....more