An ex-journalist makes the most of his time when he busts out of the mental institution where he’s been confined for more than a third of his life.
And....go: “Well, I’m not innocent but I should’ve never been sentenced to a high-security psychiatric hospital full of overmedicated, violent maniacs when I had done nothing but shoplift and make a few crude remarks to women in bars, ride twenty-five-thousand miles on an imaginary bicycle, fancy that I was the ruler of the universe, and run a few delusional undercover operations for the CIA, all brought to you by not taking my meds—or so it was explained to me.” So begins novelist and essayist Ballantine’s (Love & Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere, 2013, etc.) laugh-out-loud saga of Eddie Plum, a degenerate horse gambler who earns a new lease on life. After losing his madhouse lover, Sofia Fouquet, Eddie catches a break when an imposter posing as a shrink cuts him loose. Retiring to his distant father’s beachside retreat, Eddie bonds with Shelly Hubbard, an old mate getting by selling rare records, and Sweets the pooch, who communicates via telepathic bond. He passes the time with trips to the racetrack, Mexican brothels, and church while banging out a deranged self-help book on a typewriter once owned by Charles Bukowski and trying to avoid the cops. Along the way, Eddie discovers Shelly’s dark family secret and grapples with the reappearance of a femme fatale long thought dead. Ballantine walks a wry tightrope here, imbuing his debauched characters with the drunken nobility of Steinbeck’s “boys,” not to mention a healthy dose of gonzo angst. What results is a wanton misadventure that often flips from laughter to tears on a dime.
Bukowski and his ilk might appreciate this oddball version of the hero’s journey, soaked in beer and melancholia.