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3.62  ·  Rating details ·  3,979 ratings  ·  465 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 contin
Hardcover, 162 pages
Published February 28th 2009 by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (first published 2009)
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3.62  · 
Rating details
 ·  3,979 ratings  ·  465 reviews

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Sam Quixote
Nov 08, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Patrick O'Neil
Oct 22, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Sean Beaudoin
Dec 30, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
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
One of the dullest things you could probably ever find to read, but still not a complete waste of time.

Ablutions follows a bartender, YOU, working in a degenerating Hollywood bar. You observe the patrons who are also rapidly degenerating, and reflect on your life, which is also falling apart.

You find this book kind of boring and unimportant, but you keep reading because you want to know at what point the 2nd person perspective will make you actually feel something for the characters. You learn
Jun 16, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: book-club
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
Dec 15, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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.
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
I got this book as a gift in 2012. I never bothered reading it because I didn't want to remind myself of a certain person who I thought would pass all to well with the main character, YOU. Happy to say I read the book last weekend and it turned out to be a healing experience although sightly hard as well. Those who know I think know...
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
Jan 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
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.
Apr 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting book that, at first, had me wondering if I was going to be able to even finish it, but by the end, had completely won me over. It’s Bukowski-esque in tone, poetic in a different way, and quite dark, focusing mainly on an alcoholic barback whose life is continuously spiraling out of control. While it is not heavy on the plot, the dive bar and its denizens make for a colorful ride, and while the protagonist (if you can call him that) is kind of an ugly person, you can’t hel ...more
Oct 13, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015, can-con
When I first left home, at nearly twenty-one, I got a job as a waitress in a bar in the city center of a large metropolis. During happy hour and a little beyond, the bar would be filled with the expected assortment of downtown types – everyone from suits to bums – but once the DJ would arrive at nine o'clock, the quiet regulars would file out and the young crowd would take over; loud and crazy and beautiful, every night of the week. The bar staff were also loud and crazy and beautiful, and like ...more
Jul 07, 2009 rated it liked it
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
Nov 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2018-19-season
Quite similar to The Sisters Brothers in structure, but a bit less entertaining overall, whether because of the to relatable ugliness of the entire cast of characters or because the modern setting made the entire plot a bit to real, I'm still not sure of, but in either case it comes across as a lesser work in my experience.
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
Chad Byrnes
Nov 15, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-i-read
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
Aug 20, 2012 rated it liked it

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
Feb 04, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.
Mar 09, 2009 rated it really liked it
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.
Sep 05, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: general-fiction
This is a hard book for me to review. I liked it. It's not as spectacular as The Sisters Brothers, but it's riveting nonetheless. Kind of like a trainwreck, it's hard to step away, to not look, to ignore the carnage.

"Trainwreck" in no way describes the writing; deWitt is a great writer, and even though this is a first novel it's not a beginning writer's output. The structure is unusual; at first I didn't "get it," but after a few pages it all started to make sense. I grew to love it. And even th
Apr 12, 2014 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
I don't know who the target audience for this book is supposed to be, but I'm definitely not part of it. I went in expecting something along the lines of American Whiskey Bar. Instead, I got the second-person (first strike) ramblings of an unlikable, and worse, uninteresting (second strike) bartender in Hollywood as he details his misadventures, most of which just involve him drinking and taking pills in different venues until he throws up and starts over (third strike). Absolutely nothing happe ...more
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
Neil Powell
Jun 04, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing
The New York Times review on this book was remarkable. I will post it here, as I loved the review :)

Ablutions” is not meant to be an enjoyable book, or a loving book, or even a beautiful book (although it has moments of beauty). It is ugly on purpose. It flays open its ugliness as if to say: I’m here too. Look at me. See me. DeWitt delves deeply and unflinchingly into an addict’s mind, bearing witness to what happens to a man as a drug renders him inhuman.

Well put !
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.
Sep 19, 2017 rated it it was ok
I read Dewitt’s The Sisters Brothers in 2013, and it was a Top 10 read for me that year. His unique prose and dry humor really stood out. This year I read Dewitt’s Undermajordomo Minor and I thought it was absolutely incredible – my second favorite book of the year. Again, his prose and humor was so unique, I added Dewitt to my short list of authors whose every book I will read. So I bought Ablutions, his first book, and . . . well, so nobody’s perfect. Ablutions is less of a book and more of a ...more
Amy Firman
Feb 15, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I picked this book up after reading and loving 'The Sisters Brothers' and I wanted to try something else by this author. It has sat on my shelves waiting to be read for several years and I'm so pleased I finally got round to it (it makes me hopeful to see what other gems I have tucked away on my bookcases).
The book is written from the perspective of a bartender in a run down bar in Hollywood, its really not a place the average person would hope to visit on a night out. The main group of customer
Katie Mcsweeney
Read this pretty much in one sitting. It is bleak and depressing. I've seen other reviewers complaining about the POV but that was actually one of the tings I liked the most. I'm pretty sure I know 'this' bartender, I'm pretty sure I've sat at his bar drinking Jameson with drunken regulars. The book is set in Hollywood but it could be set anywhere. It is the story of every bar with regulars.
I'm sure for other people that might make it cliché - not for me. I'll never tire of reading characters wh
Jack Scott
Mar 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Incorporating deWitt humour this book sheds a twisted look on a sad story of addiction and downfall. At times both horrible and heart wrenching. A little darker than the authors more recent work but an absorbing read all the same.
Aug 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: library
Totally not a feel-good book, but I loved it anyway. Somehow it perfectly fit my mood about work and life in general.

Totally can't recommend this to anyone but I certainly recommend it to everyone. If you can find it, check it out.
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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.
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“Work will drive you crazy if you let it.” 7 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 [...]” 7 likes
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