Relationships between people and animals and the hopes of both species that “love was out there for everybody, if they could just find it”: these are the central issues in this Alabama author’s relentlessly gritty latest.
In and nearby contemporary Memphis, several vividly sketched lovers and losers are quickly set into motion, and conflict. Septuagenarian Mr. Arthur explores ways to keep and sexually satisfy his smoldering younger wife Helen, who turns her attentions toward Eric, a young pet-store employee whose most meaningful relationship is with his (male) pit bull Jada Pinkett. Anjalee, a goodhearted whore marked by a history of family abuse, commits assault, goes on the lam, and attracts the stupefied devotion of Wayne Stubbock, a pugilistically gifted young sailor. Meanwhile, ex-con Domino D’Adamo, whose interstate drug business is compromised by his murderous gangster boss, experiences three unfortunate run-ins with cops, one of them an importunate black Amazon named Penelope—who takes up with Dom’s carjacking victim Merlot, a bachelor high-school teacher with a hidden secret love (named Candy). There’s considerable pleasure in Brown’s energetic deployment of these (really rather likable) grotesques, in a roiling, in-your-face melodrama whose comic-horrible details are variously reminiscent of Barry Hannah, Harry Crews, and the writer Brown most resembles: Erskine Caldwell. If the drumbeat momentum of his characters’ compulsively self-destructive behavior (symbolized by the title metaphor, a reference to the past Eric yearns to escape) seems forced, Brown nevertheless springs a few refreshing surprises. And the multiple staggered climaxes go a long way toward qualifying and contradicting what appears initially to be its rather generic naturalism.
Brown’s Fay (2000) remains his best—but it’s good to see him extending his range. The Rabbit Factory has much to recommend it.