SLAM by Lewis Shiner


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A beautifully understated comic nightmare about an ex-con's misbegotten attempts to tread the straight and narrow outside the slammer, by the talented author of Deserted Cities of the Heart (1988). Dave--just Dave--is paroled from the Bastrop, Texas, prison (""he didn't know about the federal prison there until he ended up inside it"") into a job set up by his lawyer friend Fred: caretaker of the Galveston house and 23 cats of late proto-feminist Marguerite Johnson--an estate now contested by 50-ish hoyden Mary Nixon and UFO guru Bryant C. Whitney. Things fall apart from the minute Dave's gift, Patsy, comes to pick him up with amiable arsonist Marc: his parole officer, schoolmarmish Mrs. Cook, is obviously out to get him; Whitney drugs him and tries to persuade him he's been kidnapped by aliens; Dave's old cellmate Terrell breaks out, settles into Dave's digs, and begins planning a major drug deal; and watching the mystical maneuvers of skateboarders Steve and Bobby makes Dave (who served time for refusing to get a job for wages the IRS could garnishee after getting caught for nonpayment of taxes) wonder whether he really wants to lead a normal life after all, or whether he wouldn't rather get Marc to torch the house and fade away with his new girlfriend, Mickey, from the 7-Eleven. After a series of plot twists worthy of Thomas Pynchon or Joe Orton, it's no surprise that the arson scheme doesn't go exactly as planned, but Shiner does manage a happy ending as magically unexpected as pulling 23 cats out of a hat. Shiner's prairie-sparse writing transmutes his sitcom story into a wonderfully deadpan, wacked-out comedy that makes regular life after parole seem ridiculously dull.

Pub Date: Aug. 1st, 1990
Publisher: Doubleday