Style imitates theme in this seriocomic novel, but it’s no more effective than it was in Wintner’s jivey previous effort, The Prophet Pasqual (1999).
Set largely in the hills of Central Mexico, the story is told in a smart, boozy, homuncular (read: grotesque) prose not always to be grasped. Lead character Tony Drury is a drunk from the States; his alter ego is Charles, a drunken actor and egoist, with whom he forms one character. The plot slips like a drinker’s elbow toward the vague regeneration of Tony and aborted saving of Charles. Underpinning in any picture of a completely pickled society, however satirically new-fangled the author’s handiwork, should be some sense of moral outrage. But Wintner seems more than half in love with his easeful metaphysics of the brain-damaged than not, as Tony makes clear early on: “Waiting is natural for spirits adrift . . . so why not drift in good fun with good will in the meantime?” Not badly said, but Wintner fills each page with a vegetative overgrowth of booze pathos and neural map of the pathways of alcohol that in no way carry the force of Under the Volcano, since the pathetic Tony/Charles never achieves the tragic stature of Malcolm Lowry’s Consul. Instead we get at novel’s end: “That time in that place was a last time in a last place. It was another ending, though it begins again elsewhere and people still seek it. Piss and old beer become a stink you get used to, especially after a piss makes room for a new beer. Tony Drury went south and didn’t know it.” Does Tony sober up? For a few days. But boggling hairpins of illogic in the writing, with metaphors left burning in the ashtray, don’t allow much hope.
God knows what to make of this. We don’t. Spiritual rebirth it’s not.