Two Southern men riff, rant and trade non sequiturs in the latest literary stunt from Powell (Creative Writing/U. of Florida).
Following 2009’s The Interrogative Mood, a novel in which every sentence was a question, this slim novel is built out of brief chapters written exclusively in dialogue between two men sitting and biding their time “[s]omewhere between Bakersfield, California, and Jacksonville, Florida.” Similarly, their conversation topics can and do go anywhere: Jayne Mansfield’s cleavage, barber poles, war, sanity, Southern lore, existential notions of identity and more. The banter recalls Waiting for Godot, though the chatter here is more pun-driven than absurdist. When Powell gets deep into wordplay, the book can be great fun, as chapters that begin as sober discussions of, say, Johnny Weissmuller collapse into ridiculous lines of dialogue like, “We could go down to Blockbuster in the vinegar and get Tarzan.” For all the verbal mugging, though, Powell does raise some provocative questions: “What is the big picture?” “Why do we talk?” “Are we free?” What does it mean to live today like it’s the last day of your life? Clear answers to such heady questions aren’t forthcoming, of course, and the novel is bound to frustrate anybody looking for a conventional narrative arc. What this chicken-fried Phaedo does have going for it is its verve and enthusiasm for language—every page reflects Powell’s restless urge to make up words, to drill into them, to apply new meanings to them and sometimes just to revel in the sound of language. For instance: “Be neat, be brave, be Buster-Brown bustamente.” “What does that mean?” “I do not know. But does it not sound right?” If you’re willing to at least consider that question, spending time with Powell’s rambles can be great fun.
An irreverent, goofball, witty and surprisingly compelling experiment.