Second-novelist Gann (The Barbarian Parade, 2002) delves into the lives of eccentric and semi-lost regulars at a bar in a forsaken part of town.
The city is Montreux (along the Ohio River, possibly), the once-thriving neighborhood is Old Towne, and the bar, windmill adorning it and alley out behind, is the Don Quixote. And things indeed have fallen far. We meet, for example, Haycraft Keebler, whose father was once the mayor, sufficiently successful, known and honored that his statue still stands in the city park. Haycraft, too, is a political idealist and worker, though his poverty, many oddities and his bipolar medical condition reduce him to the comedic Napoleon-in-rags of the title. Aging ex-hippies Beau and Glenda Stiles own and operate the establishment (its end will come at the close), looking after their flock (the tips jar is for Hay’s rent) and sometimes being looked after in return (Haycraft shares his psycho meds with Glenda). The merit of Gann’s story lies less in what’s told than it does in the telling—a telling that, albeit sometimes slow, is rich, evocative and textured. As the characters’ lives move toward their ends, so moves a whole era toward its end. Haycraft will fall in love with a young street hustler named Lambret Dellinger—with heartbreak the result. Romeo Díaz will lose his lover, ex-ballet dancer Amanda, as she goes off to huge fame as a porn star. And Mather, the retarded boy whom Beau and Glenda have harbored for years, giving him a place to live in exchange for his cleaning up around the place, will die in a scene (though not Gann’s best) of miscommunication and dumb violence. Readers may now and again need a certain patience to get there, but Haycraft’s fate at story’s end—and the conclusion generally—will reward them with closing fictional moments of the wonderful and significant.
Impressive and ambitious work from a talent to watch closely.