There’s a dead writer in the swimming pool at the opening of Harsch’s final installment of his Driftless trilogy (Billy Verite, 1998, etc.), but this isn’t another Sunset Boulevard: the writer’s friend spends an intensely noirish day retracing the dead man’s movements, until it’s déjà vu all over again.
Since noir and narcissism go hand in hand, it’s no surprise to find that the floating corpse’s name is Rick Harsh (sans “c”); nor is it any great shock that he maintains a running commentary as events unfold. Spleen, the man of action in Book One (The Driftless Zone, 1997), returns to life after a 15-year stint as a working-stiff/reporter and family man by quitting his job to conduct his own investigation into who put a bullet into his buddy’s face; and he starts things off by appropriating the soggy hat from Harsh’s head. Spleen’s own head is full of thoughts about his wife, the Brilliant Redhead, leaving town that day with their two kids to begin teaching philosophy at Vanderbilt—effectively ending their marriage—as he walks through one seedy neighborhood of La Crosse, Wisconsin, after another. Attacked by a dog, he stabs it to death, then is given a lift by his wife’s rich, bitchy friend Candida. The next time she stops for him, he realizes she’s been following him and assaults her. He steals a shirt and shoes from the dead man’s closet, beats up the Fag With No Eyebrows for lying to him about Harsh’s whereabouts, is threatened by a rifle-toting nun, lusts after Mayor Skunk’s loose-limbed secretary, punches transvestite Bette Davis after s/he gets too personal about his past, gets it on with Candida’s daughter, 16-year-old Thrush (who also knew Harsh intimately), and finally winds down a busy day by learning that his relationship with his wife is far worse than he thought.
The signature quirks and insouciance are all in place, making this an apt closer for a tough trio of stories from the bleeding heartland of losers.