It is difficult to know what to make of a novel in which it is impossible to know what is supposed to be real.
The second genre-bending book from Rotter (Duck Duck Wally, 2007), who has a background in film and television, features the ultimate in unreliable narrators. Starting his story with Chapter Thirty-One, to which it circles back in different form by the middle of the novel, the first-person narrative introduces the reader to a homeless man named “Doc,” who reveals that until recently he was a successful pediatrician named Robert Flopkowski, aka “Bobby,” aka “Floppy.” (There’s at least one other mysterious aka as the novel unfolds.) Bobby had a beautiful wife, a happy son and a comfortable, opulent home, in addition to his thriving practice. “Yes, life really was that good,” he tells the reader. “Until it was really bad.” What happened? Without giving too much away, it all happened very quickly and coincidentally. Bobby had endured a comparatively bleak childhood, one in which he was traumatized by the suicide of his father, a would-be novelist obsessed by a manuscript titled The Human Being. The bright spot of Bobby’s youth was his first girlfriend, Katie, who was much more attractive than he was. (Come to think of it, so is his wife, or ex-wife.) Decades later, Katie and Bobby reunite and rekindle something of a romance in a manner that strains credulity, after which his entire life falls apart. Chapters recount Bobby’s swift descent into a madness of alcohol and prescription drugs, whatever he can lay his hands on, with the narrative suffering from a decreasing clarity and believability. All of the characters including the narrator are paper thin, and many of the plot twists have a whiplash implausibility, as what had initially seemed a farcical novel turns increasingly dark and grim.
The question is whether the inconsistencies of tone and plausibility are weaknesses of the novel or indicative of the narrator’s mental state. Or both, for whatever one makes of the titular Bobby.