A salesman in the 1950s goes on the hunt for sales and adventure in Mack’s (On My Dime, 2017) novella.
When Charlie Taylor was a young boy, he was misdiagnosed with “manic depression,” or bipolar disorder, but he was never “down in the dumps”—he was solely manic, “bouncing around like a pinball.” During his formative years, he poured this energy into misbehavior, such as letting the air out of the local sheriff’s tires. He finally found himself “a real job” at the age of 19, working as a door-to-door salesman selling the Globe Reader magazine, in and around Springfield, Missouri. His endeavors are rewarded when he’s asked to join a crew of traveling salesman who are driving around the Midwest “on the Globe Reader’s dime.” He joins Bill, his boss and driver, and three others—Clifford, Jerry, and Gino—who hope to make lots of sales and have new experiences along the way. As Charlie works his sales pitches, he’s chased by the angry husband of a female customer at one point, but little else of great note occurs. The novella is narrated by Harvey Trotter, a friend of Charlie’s in later life, and Mack shows how Harvey delights in the spectacle of the salesman’s mania-fueled actions: “Charlie had his suitcase in hand and was running down the street. Running to where, nobody knew.” The story seems intended as a tender tribute to a colorful character, but there’s something uncomfortable about drawing entertainment from a life dictated by mental illness, regardless of how happy Harvey perceives Charlie to be. The narrative tone is warm and personable, though, which gives the novella an undeniable charm: “Out in the back alley sat their ride, a 1952 Ford Woody. It was quite the car of its time. I’ll say this: If you can find one today that’s been restored, you’d be sitting on a gold mine.” That said, the tale is all too brief at just over 50 pages, and it doesn’t allow for the full flowering of Charlie as a character or provide an in-depth exploration of his illness.
Somewhat appealing, but stymied by an underdeveloped plot and characters.