A police raid on the office of a San Francisco dentist sets in motion an erotic novel that offers plenty of laughing gas.
Dedicating this raunchy, picaresque tale “to women,” Pearl says “true events” inspired it. He opens with the line: “I was drawn to her like a rowdy boy to a silly girl on a sandy beach on a windy day.” That setup warns readers to expect hyperbole, and the book delivers generous amounts of it. The plot involves a hapless dentist whose San Francisco office is raided one day by “determined men in bulletproof vests,” who wave weapons and talk about massive-scale fraud. The narrator finds himself a wanted man and begins his odyssey through Europe and America, a fast-paced and often sexually explicit journey from one stranger’s bed, couch, bathroom and bungalow to the next. He attracts the attention not just of those bulletproof-vested men, but of the Russian underworld and an improbable number of voluptuous women. In the few calm moments in the book, he reflects on his life and recent past in a way that gives his tale the air of an elongated Chekhov story with overcharged credit cards and Vicodin. As the narrator falls in with two shady businessmen, Koshel and Shurkin, and the exotic dancer Anushka, the story moves along with verve and confidence that counterbalance its essentially ad hoc nature. The prose is lean and effective, and the terseness highlights Pearl’s talent for good lines. “I never actually fall asleep, just bob in and out of some oily porridge,” the narrator says. Elsewhere: “New York has no climate; it’s a carnage of moods.” The story has an ending rather than a conclusion—some readers may wish for less ambiguity—before it provides a helpful glossary of Russian-criminal slang.
A readable, witty exercise in modernist urban erotica.