Mike Van Campen's Reviews > Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Ablutions by Patrick deWitt
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Feb 14, 09

bookshelves: amazon-vine, advance-reading-copy
Read in February, 2009

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 marriage, which appears to be the one thing positive in his life. The author pulls no punches and presents alcoholism and the seedy underside of barlife in a thoroughly disturbing and unrelentingly bleak fashion.

Aside from the wife, there is not a single character that the reader truly sympathizes with. I get the feeling DeWitt strives to write something like _Jesus' Son_ here but his characters lack the appeal and humanity of Denis Johnson's addicts. As I read, I am assuming I should be hoping that the main character ("you") is ultimately able to redeem himself and fix his life but he is so unsympathetic that I just wanted to turn away from the trainwreck of his life, which may very well be the intent of the author.

As for the "Notes for a Novel" thing (the book is told in short notes about the characters and episodes for presumably the bartender (you) to eventually compile into a novel), it doesn't read like a clever commentary on the novel or even a clever literary gimmick but as the idea of an author who could not string together disparate sections into a cohesive whole. It feels like a novel the author gave up on or a throwaway project from a writing workshop. The end in particular feels forced, as if he is just trying to wrap things up and get this project finished. Having said all that, I will say that the book is well written and good prose always impresses me and keeps me reading. DeWitt has talent and, though this book does not fully realize it, he might be an author to watch if he can find a better, less overworked subject.
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