Bizarre yet grounded, this book about a male stripper makes for a playful look at the human experience.


A debut novel explores a stranger’s adventures in a surreal land.

The tale of Pozzo begins in a garage situated near an unpaved alley. It is there that two boys dressed as angels and an “impressively large, but not fat, drag queen version of Mae West” wind up conjuring a wondrous creature. After the boys pray and Mae, as she is known, sings a rendition of the Chordettes’ “Mr. Sandman” (accompanied by her drag queen backup singers), a man emerges from a cardboard box. He will become known as Pozzo. Strong, protected by an invisible guardian rabbit, and given to a clunky, anachronistic mode of speaking (as when he explains his dismay at having a guardian rabbit: “I have no understanding that allows for an incorporation of such a guardian”), he is adrift, but not helpless. Taken home by Mae, he forms a close bond with her, though friction develops. While Mae makes her living as a drag artist, Pozzo begins to fear he is dead weight in the relationship (“He had even overheard himself referred to as Mae’s toy boy”). As the decision is made that Pozzo too will perform for money, he winds up blossoming into an incredibly successful male stripper. When he eventually leaves Mae for the potential of even brighter pastures, the only question is just where he might wind up. Peppered with philosophical considerations (a paragraph on Kant includes his concept of “noumena”), offbeat scenes (a conversation between a private investigator and his billy goat assistant results in many “Baa, baa” responses), and a plethora of singing (song lyrics included), the story is decidedly whimsical and dreamlike. Part Rocky Horror Picture Show-style camp, part earnest exploration of what it means to exist, Johnson’s tale takes the reader on a weird though not impossible journey. Broken up into three digestible parts and coming in at under 300 pages, the entire adventure moves just as quickly and confoundedly as a lively floor show. Whether or not readers will take to the mixture of the goofy and the ruminative depends on their tolerance for creatures of many stripes and lots and lots of singing.  

Bizarre yet grounded, this book about a male stripper makes for a playful look at the human experience.

Pub Date: Aug. 18, 2016

ISBN: 978-1-5347-0435-0

Page Count: 248

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: Oct. 26, 2016

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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Thoroughbreds and Virginia blue-bloods cavort, commit murder, and fall in love in Roberts's (Hidden Riches, 1994, etc.) latest romantic thriller — this one set in the world of championship horse racing. Rich, sheltered Kelsey Byden is recovering from a recent divorce when she receives a letter from her mother, Naomi, a woman she has believed dead for over 20 years. When Kelsey confronts her genteel English professor father, though, he sheepishly confesses that, no, her mother isn't dead; throughout Kelsey's childhood, she was doing time for the murder of her lover. Kelsey meets with Naomi and not only finds her quite charming, but the owner of Three Willows, one of the most splendid horse farms in Virginia. Kelsey is further intrigued when she meets Gabe Slater, a blue-eyed gambling man who owns a neighboring horse farm; when one of Gabe's horses is mated with Naomi's, nostrils flare, flanks quiver, and the romance is on. Since both Naomi and Gabe have horses entered in the Kentucky Derby, Kelsey is soon swept into the whirlwind of the Triple Crown, in spite of her family's objections to her reconciliation with the notorious Naomi. The rivalry between the two horse farms remains friendly, but other competitors — one of them is Gabe's father, a vicious alcoholic who resents his son's success — prove less scrupulous. Bodies, horse and human, start piling up, just as Kelsey decides to investigate the murky details of her mother's crime. Is it possible she was framed? The ground is thick with no-goods, including haughty patricians, disgruntled grooms, and jockeys with tragic pasts, but despite all the distractions, the identity of the true culprit behind the mayhem — past and present — remains fairly obvious. The plot lopes rather than races to the finish. Gambling metaphors abound, and sexual doings have a distinctly equine tone. But Roberts's style has a fresh, contemporary snap that gets the story past its own worst excesses.

Pub Date: June 13, 1995

ISBN: 0-399-14059-X

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Putnam

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 15, 1995

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