From Publishers Weekly
Charles Bukowski's ghost hovers over deWitt's grim first novel about a bartender at a Hollywood watering hole and its down-and-out regulars. The unnamed bartender's observations on his co-workers and customers comprise a good chunk of the novel. There's Simon, the manager, a coke-addled failed actor; Merlin, a freelance life coach in his 70s; the unemployed Curtis, who distributes as tips used electronics from his apartment; Terese and Teri, known as The Teachers, who have slept with all the doormen at the bar; and the former child star for whom oblivion can't come soon enough. The bartender himself is also a lush, and after losing his wife he embarks on a halfhearted cleanup. When this fails to take, he returns to the bar and plans one last ploy to break free of his increasingly onerous existence. The downward spiral is a hellish descent that seems bottomless, and while the character sketches are fascinating in detail, the plotless ramble can make this relatively short novel feel overlong. Fans of Bukowski and the Fantes, however, won't mind. (Feb.)
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In an old Hollywood bar where the tinsel is tarnished, a barback (bartender’s helper) falls in love with whiskey and barbiturates. Fascinated by the down-and-outers who line the bar—a man with a police fetish, a former child actor, an artist who won’t show his napkin drawings—he falls hard and soon is practically one of them, save for the fact that his grudging camaraderie has been replaced by a vicious mean streak. The subtitle, Notes for a Novel, is key: its second-person voice is driven by imperatives to “discuss” each character and event. These scenes are stunningly depicted, but the barback remains a cipher, the plot is barely a sketch, and the book feels unfinished. It’s hard to say whether this is deWitt’s artistic intention or whether he has a greater ambition unrealized. His use of “you” diminishes but doesn’t dissipate an echo of recovery memoir; given the age, readers will wonder if this is autobiographical. But deWitt writes beautifully about ugliness, and his book casts a haunting spell. His Notes show great promise. --Keir Graff
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