Stumbling across the scene as Soviet agents sadistically slaughter an Ã©migrÃ© physicist in Malibu Canyon launches a billionaire industrialist’s son–and standup wannabe–on a Kafkaesque ’80s odyssey that can’t decide whether it’s a thriller, love story, spy novel or social commentary.
Then again, Jonny Goodis–the protagonist in this work originally published in 1983 by the pseudonymous Thibault (We Lack a Word, 2007)–seems equally confusing. Pushing 30 when he witnesses the murder, Goodis, a self-described failure whose only friend is his Old English sheepdog, Lady Hunt, careens unpredictably from being at people’s throats and at their feet. He’s sufficiently sharp to spot spooks tailing him, but apparently not enough to wonder about the coincidence of meeting brainy blonde knockout Lauren Bateman so soon after the murder, or why she would be instantly smitten with the likes of him. Instead, over the subsequent decade during which the story unfolds, the pair wine, dine, whine, make up and break up at excruciating length (which feels longer still because of prose like: â€œAt last a deep feeling of comfort and security took root in Jon’s troubled soul. His heart was full of dance and lifeâ€¦”). The rest of the time Goodis focuses on dodging the sundry Cold Warriors trying to eliminate him–a task facilitated in the case of Cuban agent Garm by the musky stench that always precedes him–and fitfully attempting to figure out why they want to do so. He sporadically pursues, then abandons, his efforts at standup comedy. During one hallucinatory stretch in the Arizona desert, Goodis appears to turn Garm into Swiss cheese with an M-11, but soon the Cuban is back and shooting at him while he performs in Vegas, then is himself killed–or is he? Far from producing an effect of agreeable mystification, the author’s circling back to events and shifting their apparent reality ends up simply frustrating.
This proves most egregious in the ending, which should make any reader who has slogged through the entirety of this ambitiously plotted but poorly executed book feel cheated indeed.