The contrary spirits of Sinclair Lewis and Thomas Pynchon, as well as of John Kennedy Toole, hover over this unruly first novel: a satirical mock-epic of Middle America and, at least in part, a boldly imagined allegory of the struggles of American labor. The story's told by an admiring "disciple" of John Kaltenbrunner, a farm boy who grows up fatherless and friendless in the town of Baker (where, years before, Kaltenbrunner päre had discovered prehistoric remains—a fact that eventually, and surprisingly, figures in the novel's action). Beginning with a sly Prologue in which his protagonist's birth is "explained" in a manner reminiscent of frontier tall-tales, Egolf contrives a deliriously overheated story of an introverted and stubborn outcast whose mistreatment by disapproving neighbors transforms him into a militant workers'-rights advocate. Egolf writes knowledgeably, at times lyrically, of the exhausting monotony and compensatory satisfactions of hard manual labor, while simultaneously exhausting the reader with over-the-top accounts of Kaltenbrunner's pitched battles with Baker's smugly complacent vested interests. The climax occurs when Our Hero, having been driven from his home, returns as a trash collector and not long afterward organizes his fellow workers for the final conflict—which ends in a cemetery. The wonderfully named Lord of the Barnyard achieved US publication in a roundabout way, its globetrotting young author having been"discovered" and sponsored by French writer Patrick Modiano. The novel appeared first in England, but for all its narrative energy and impressive knowledge of the workaday world, Egolf's debut isn't the overlooked masterpiece some are calling it: Egolf too frequently fails to dramatize, indulging instead in lengthy (and, to be fair, frequently hilarious) summary jeremiads. And, thank heaven, his book is much more than an imitation of the overrated Confederacy of Dunces. Egolf has a real subject and the ability and will to write about it passionately.
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