Debut author Lietz presents a novel, based on true stories, about various, disconnected events in an adventurous man’s life.
The story begins in the summer of 1966 as a man named Jan goes to the Hamptons on New York’s Long Island with his co-workers. The group rambles around the area, drinking a strongly alcoholic concoction called “bash.” It becomes a regular event, and in the ’70s, the destination changes from the Hamptons to New Hampshire where Jan, along with his wife, Marisol, his daughter, Domino, and an assortment of friends build a summertime campground. In 1975, Jan earns a degree in electrical engineering and finds work with an architectural team on a large hospital project in Los Angeles. After he and his family move to the West Coast, the narrative takes a distinct turn: Jan, on a Dallas business trip, has an affair with a woman named Mandy. At first, it seems like a one-night stand, but then the pair go on to sexually experiment; soon, they even make plans to write a sex guide together. That book never materializes, but Jan’s marriage, and his affair, end up dissolving. However, the ever-adaptable engineer goes on to meet other women, obtain a Shar-Pei named Ling Ling, and embark on travels that include driving four-wheel-drive vehicles in the desert with pals nicknamed “Lava Man” and “Red Dog.” Throughout, Jan maintains a love of opera—he even goes so far as to explain, in detail, the plot of Giacomo Puccini’s La Fanciulla del West—and regularly insists that people “Get Off My Leg,” which seems roughly equivalent to the phrase “give me a break.”
Lietz’s novel is peculiar in a lot of ways, not the least of which is the author’s choice to use a handful of different narrators to tell the tales (although Jan ends up as the narrator of most of them). There are also a great many flowery sentiments; for instance, at one point, Mandy explains that her and Jan’s willingness to break sexual taboos is “a perfect coda to an enticing tease we dared to pursue that simply exploded and catapulted us into a new dimension of euphoria.” Indeed, such dense statements as these end up raising the novel’s page count to well over 600 pages. However, the book covers such a wide swath of topics there’s little room for boredom. For example, readers are told of a brave cow that Jan and his friends encountered in the Nevada desert, are instructed on how to make a German cucumber salad (gurkensalat), get a brief history of Jarbidge, Nevada, and are treated to a long, obscenity-laden talk about suicide. At another point, the tone changes as Jan’s daughter reveals that she was molested by her uncle, and it turns out that she wasn’t the only one that he victimized; through open communication, the family is able to confront the troubling news. It all results in a highly unique, if scattered, tale.
A memorable narrative that can be a bit bumpy in parts.