A Korean War deserter tries to start over in a rapidly changing Florida in this novel.
Philip Narby doesn’t remember who he was. In an earlier lifetime, he was a behind-the-scenes paper-pusher in Occupied Japan. But he learned things he shouldn’t have about the illegal activities of the powers that be. For that, he got tortured and then sent to the front lines of the Korean War, where he was gravely injured. A military black marketeer used him as a mule for his ill-gotten gains and helped Narby flee to Cuba. Early on in the tale, the drug-addled Narby escapes Havana by boat when the people start turning against dictator Fulgencio Batista, and crashes ashore on Florida’s Gulf Coast, with thousands of stolen dollars in a rucksack. He’s accompanied by a young, idealistic medical student, through whom he funnels aid to Fidel Castro’s revolutionaries. Narby also invests in land in the region, building a primitive fortress in the jungle. He falls in lust with an abstract artist living in a nearby colony of the wintering wealthy. He also falls under the spell of jazz, even running a club in Miami’s black Overtown section. But Narby is really stuck between the worlds of the powerful and the faceless masses: “There were only two sides, now and forevermore: them, the jackals with generals’ stars, and the Harvard-suckled backstabbers and assassins, and us, the men who didn't matter, fodder left to rot in the swamps and the jungles and the shit-water ditches.” Narby’s adventures are a warped version of the American Dream, as he uses stolen funds to build a better life for himself and others. Yet he can’t enjoy it because his paranoia has him continually looking over his shoulder. Weisberg’s (Chronicles of Disorder, 2000) narrative is much like the protagonist’s life: while time passes quickly, significant events for Narby happen only occasionally. His indolent lifestyle wears thin over 600 pages. Furthermore, there are few characters worth rooting for. Narby means well, but his venomous thoughts and substance abuse bring him down. Still, it’s engrossing to watch one man founder in the midst of a turbulent period of history.
An intriguing antihero’s perspective on his life and times.