Empty Bottle of Smoke by Conon Parks

Empty Bottle of Smoke

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From debut author Parks comes a disjointed novel about a man named Walter and his paranoid adventures in Seattle.

When readers first meet Walter, he rummages through his mail, finding mostly junk that includes an offer for a magical Soviet Elixir and a chain letter promising a large sum of money. After a letter containing a quote from Nostradamus convinces Walter that he is “being stalked like a little rabbit,” he decides to flee. And what better destination than a “bunker of a building graced under the banner name of the New Museum of Indecision and Hysteria and the We B Art Gallery”? There, he meets Mac, a man who can discuss the Baader-Meinhof gang, quote Gen. George Patton, make quick work of a punching bag, and cool himself off with a beer after the effort. Casting his lot with Mac, Walter finds himself involved in the Seattle underworld, complete with drugs—“It’s all about the democratization of cocaine, don’t you see?” Mac says—weapons, and an assortment of left-wing ideas: “the power of the workers is not rooted in organization, but in disruption,” one character comments. As increasingly strange characters and events are added to this simmering pot of madness, how it will all end is anyone’s guess, particularly in later chapters when the World Trade Organization sets upon Seattle. As thoroughly wacky as this Pynchon-esque plot may seem, nestled among a quote from “John Hinkley” (sic) and a crude illustration of an art gallery is a reasonably discernable, consistently wild story about Walter and his quest. This is by no means a light read: while not untraceable, the narrative adeptly challenges readers with an assortment of historical references and twists, and certain portions may require rereading to ascertain just what exactly is going on.

A raucous, if at times difficult, literary concoction in a bizarre world of radicals. 

Page count: 158pp
Publisher: Brave Dog/Dead Dog Artworks
Program: Kirkus Indie
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15th, 2015


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