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.