Stretching credulity to the snapping point, Rips searches for (and finds) a mysterious black woman who appears in some drawings executed by the author’s father and discovered only after his death.
Employing images that Faulkner and Flannery O’Connor might well have declined to use in their fiction (too outrageous), Rips (Pasquale’s Nose: Idle Days in an Italian Town, 2001) regales us with the antics of his fun-house family out in the Central Plains. Samples: a neighbor named Ronald has sex with a chicken that subsequently appears on the dinner menu. The author’s grandparents operated a brothel. The author as a little boy climbs into bed with his dead nanny. At the circus, Rips and his father see a performer fall to her death. A childhood friend named David has sex with his mother and then years later—mad—removes his own face. An employee in his father’s eyeglass factory affixes an artificial penis to his cowboy boot and is thereby popular with the women. A man, digging graves in the crater of a volcano, survives an eruption, losing only his jaw in the process. A many-days-dead body falls through the ceiling of a coffee shop where the author is sitting. A tornado sucks his grandmother through a basement garbage chute up into the kitchen. It seems currently fashionable in memoir to smudge the ever-vague line between fact and fiction (if you haven’t experienced some bestiality or boozy child-abuse, what chance do you have for publication?), but Rips’s adventures will cause readers to wonder whether there is any difference. Rips continually tries to spread a layer of respectability and even erudition on his narrative cracker, so we’re invited to wonder what Sartre might have thought of all of this, and there are earnest allusions to Ajax, Ionesco, and Herodotus.
Written with skill and humor—and with a vulpine eye that sees much and winks often.