A mythological Bigfoot-ish creature terrorizes Washington, D.C., in an absurdist fable that veers from the intriguingly eccentric to the precious.
First-novelist Slavin (stories: The Woman Who Cut Off Her Leg at the Maidstone Club, 1999) is best delineating the angst of Dylan Dunleavy, 14, whose body changes get him fired after three glorious seasons as the voice of a rodent called Harlan on a wildly popular animated TV show (“the job every kid in America wanted”). But nothing can stop Dylan’s voice from growing too low for the boy-rat Harlan, and, once ousted by Gold Street, Dylan feels the full weight of his loneliness. He lives with his protective, chin-up mother, Wendy, in a depressing housing complex in Washington, while his father, Congressman Matt, does time at Ainsville prison for shadiness. Grisly murders have been taking place, and, in his delusional grief (perhaps), Dylan spots the Chewy-like monster, called a chagwa, which seems to have sprung from the deepest recesses of man’s subconscious. Soon, the chagwa is sighted everywhere, large, hairy and voracious for steak, though no one seems able to shoot it. In alternate viewpoints, the surreal plight of Wendy and Dylan becomes apparent: stabilized on Solisan, a drug everyone takes, Wendy bids goodbye to her occasional affair, Peter, who is moving with his family to the historical enactment camp Colonial World, where there’s war with the Croatans and an outbreak of influenza. Wendy flirts with dishy political impresario Ben Sotterburg and entertains her husband at home for occasional, edgy furloughs from jail, while Dylan grows more depressed and isolated, the chagwa more restless and hungry and Wendy more nutty and unstable—until the whole city seems to erupt in paranoia.
Slavin’s efforts to undercut the reader’s sense of equilibrium are arresting for a bit, then persistently off-putting. In all, sparks of high goof and a lot of nonsense filler.