Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Notes for a Novel

By Patrick DeWitt
The subtitle, “Notes for a Novel,” suggests deWitt’s informality of approach. Many of the narrative fragments (the book is not technically written in chapters) begin “Discuss…”—and he fills in the blank with a name (“Discuss Sam, the bar’s principal cocaine dealer,” “Discuss the short, overweight Hispanic woman”). In this way we learn about the regulars in the bar as well as about those who work there, and unsurprisingly it turns out this Hollywood bar is not a hangout for the world’s most prepossessing subculture. Both customers and staff consume drinks lavishly, and cocaine, the drug of choice, is never far away. The “adventures,” such as they are, are invariably depressing: The bartender’s wife runs off with another man; customers share their wildest sexual fantasies (and sometimes try to realize them); Curtis, a “disconsolate black man and regular with a law enforcement fetish,” disappears from the bar for a while and then cloyingly reappears, one of life’s losers—“that is,” the bartender explains, “someone who has lost, and who is losing, and who will continue to lose for the rest of his life until he is dead and in the ground.” Eventually the bartender gets out of Dodge and goes on his own mini-odyssey, visiting bars (naturally) all over the Southwest and meeting fellow nonadaptive types. The culmination of the social function of the bar occurs when the owner dies and his wife decides to have a private wake at the bar, bringing together the regulars in an orgy of drunken revelry. True to the tone of the book, the story trails off open-endedly rather than resolves or concludes.
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