Another trio of novellas from Harrison (Julip, 1994, etc.) that, to varying degrees of success, revisits themes and characters from earlier work.
In the title piece, 20-something Joe has a recent head injury that renders him uncivilized. The elderly narrator and a group of concerned others attempt to care for him, but he’s incorrigible enough to be uncontainable by men—and irresistible to women—in a piece allowing the author to wax Harrisonian on masculinity in crisis, civilization in crisis, and food: plot is secondary. “Westward Ho” resuscitates B.D., or Brown Dog (Julip; The Woman Lit by Fireflies, 1991, not reviewed), a Chippewa from Michigan, this time on a quest in Los Angeles for a stolen bearskin. B.D. is “simple,” but his defectiveness is congenital rather than the result of an accident as his “innocence” accounts for some amusing events and commentary on the absurdities of the West Coast, especially the film industry. The concluding novella, “I Forgot to Go to Spain,” features a late–middle-aged writer of slapdash biographies (“bioprobes”) who forsook earlier literary aspirations for easier, and more remunerative, hackwork. He contacts an ex-wife he hasn’t seen in 30 years, and transformational decisions ensue. All three tales bang away at a sameness of theme—inability to adapt, irritability at having to adapt, or self-loathing for having adapted—and all three portray the consumption of massive amounts of food and alcohol (aspiring oenophiles could begin a cellar on Harrison’s information). And there’s sex, natch, refreshingly not the p.c. academic variety about victimhood and selfhood, yet often puerile or implausible.
Typical Harrison: familiar, high-flown, and fleeting, with equal parts fine writing, weak plotting, compelling vision, comic antics, and locker-room anecdotes. The real point, from the man himself: “The danger of civilization, of course, is that you will piss away your life on nonsense.”