LOUSE by David Grand


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Grand’s ambitious, frustrating debut takes the form of a memoir of a dutiful servant who chronicles the collapse of his banal and all-powerful master and the suffocating, pointless world that he has created. Herman Q. Louse, dressed in his regulation gray flannel suit, is valet to the aging Poppy—a Howard Hughes—like mogul, now bedridden and engrossed with germ paranoia. Poppy’s final project has been the creation of the Resort Town of G., where hundreds of unwilling servants, deprived of their long-term memories, go about tasks that are spelled out for them in a manual. Louse attends to his duties, hums Mozart (as mandated) while injecting Poppy with his nightly Valium, but he feels a vague distance from his life. He’s shaken out of his ordinary rounds of humiliating ministrations to Poppy and recreational fly-swatting, however, when a note is taped to his thigh during sex with one of the anonymous women he’s required to mate on a regular basis. It tells him he’s been chosen to take part in a conspiracy to subvert the established authorities of G., in accordance with the Poppy’s theory that —If there is no enemy within, there is no enemy to fight.— And so when Poppy orders Louse to give him a triple-strength (and probably lethal) injection, Louse complies and receives a promotion. After this, certain forms of Louse’s numbness abate: He begins to feel stirrings toward a woman he works with, and bits of memories start to emerge. A man who claims to be Poppy’s son—and the real Herman Q. Louse—appears with a slew of quasi-explanations and begins to organize an escape from G. Is this, then, a scathing satire of organizational mores, a chilling tour of a murky authoritarian world where reality is plastic, or simply a dizzying litany of comings and goings that challenges readers to figure out what (if anything) is really going on? Grand’s confident and clever fantasy runs disappointingly shallow: Despite the flashily ominous scenery, there are few moments that resonate or disturb.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1998
ISBN: 1-55970-449-7
Page count: 272pp
Publisher: Arcade
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1st, 1998


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