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Our Napoleon in Rags Paperback – April 1, 2005

4 out of 5 stars 3 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Haycraft Keebler, the manic-depressive protagonist of Gann's ambitious second novel (following The Barbarian Parade), believes that it is his duty to save the world. Spending most of his time in a rundown bar appropriately named the Don Quixote, Haycraft devises plans to cure society's ills, from spray-painting the city's trashcans gold to creating a "community living room" in the middle of the sidewalk. The regulars at the Don Q, all idealistic misfits in their own ways, affectionately tolerate Haycraft's crazy schemes and outraged polemics, but when he becomes romantically involved with a teenage male prostitute, a disastrous chain of events ensues that throws the community into chaos. Gann explores the lives of various Don Quixote frequenters, including the bar's ageing hippie owners and the pragmatic Romeo, who stumbles into the Internet porn industry. Unfortunately, the plot is disjointed and, until the end, seemingly lacking in direction. Gann's elegant prose perfectly captures the novel's sense of doomed romanticism, but his imaginative characters lack realism, which keeps readers at an emotional distance. Ultimately, this beautifully written novel about lofty ideals and inevitable disappointments mirrors its own themes-it fails to achieve all its goals, but is nonetheless commendable for the valiant effort.

About the Author

Kirby Gann's first novel, The Barbarian Parade, was called "a striking debut for a novelist of daring creativity and passion" by Edmund White. His short fiction has appeared in Witness, The Crescent Review, American Writing, The Louisville Review, The Southeast Review, and The Southern Indiana Review. He is also Managing Editor at Sarabande Books, and teaches in the MFA Program at Spalding University.

Product Details

  • Paperback: 211 pages
  • Publisher: Ig Publishing; First Paperback Edition edition (April 1, 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0975251732
  • ISBN-13: 978-0975251737
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.7 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #2,973,686 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Described in the blogosphere as one of the nation's most underrated writers, Kirby Gann is the author of the novel Ghosting (2012), which was included in the "Best of Year" lists from Publishers Weekly and Shelf Awareness and a finalist for the Kentucky Book of the Year. He has published two other novels, The Barbarian Parade (2002), and Our Napoleon in Rags (2005), and co-edited (with poet Kristin Herbert) the anthology A Fine Excess: Contemporary Literature at Play, which was a finalist for the ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Award (Anthologies). His work has appeared most recently in The Louisville Review, The Oxford American, and The Southeast Review, and stories are forthcoming in 2016 in Ploughshares and Post Road. Gann is the recipient of an Individual Artist Fellowship and two Professional Assistance Awards from the Kentucky Arts Council. In 2015 he stepped down as Managing Editor at Sarabande Books, a position he held for eighteen years, and now pursues freelance projects in book design, typesetting, editorial, and production management. He teaches in the brief-residency MFA in Writing Program at Spalding University.

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Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
With all due respect to Publishers Weekly, I think the review above betrays a reviewer stressing under a deadline and hoping for a quick read. Gann's novel is a small wonder, one that rewards attentive reading and even rereading. His language is elegant and musical, and his incisive portrayal of some of the most unusual, yet believable characters is a rarity in contemporary fiction. This is not a novel that can be read and fully appreciated within a few hours, and, if one gives it the proper attention, will linger in the reader for a long time.
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Format: Paperback
Author Kirby Gann appreciates life's ambiguities, especially couched in human form. With a keen eye and finely tuned wit, he assembles an eclectic group of misfits, who gather nightly to commiserate with each other at the neighborhood watering hole, the Don Quixote. At the center of all is Haycraft Keebler, "political philosopher and populist idealist, manic-depressive man-about-town", quietly subversive character.

The proprietors of the Don Q are especially protective of Keebler, self-appointed guardians of "Our Napoleon in Rags". Haycraft is ever brewing one scheme or another, small anarchies to challenge neighborhood complacency. Haycraft has a soft spot for the down-and-out, kindred souls who need a helping hand or a floor to sleep on, but everyone is concerned when Haycraft shows up with Lambret Dillinger, a fifteen-year old or so street hustler and graffiti artist with a penchant for sniffing aerosol cans. But Haycraft sees a spark there and nurtures the boy's burgeoning intellect.

The cast of characters could be out of a Dicken's novel, as colorful and eccentric as any 19th century denizens of the wrong side of the tracks: Beau and Glenda Stiles, owners of the Don Quixote; Romeo Diaz, who believes that "sex is liberation", hopelessly in love with Anantha Bliss, ex-ballet dancer turner stripper and internet diva; Chesley Sutherland, a local policeman temporarily off duty for use of excessive force, who watches over the patrons of the bar; and the inimitable Mather Williams, sometimes helper at the Don Q, who lives in Romeo's basement and creates his own unique works of art, a combination of drawings, kitsch and colored markers.
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Format: Paperback
I agree with other comments about the PW review. While not The Great American Novel, this book is a solid 4 of 5 stars -- and Gann's wonderful characters are perfectly believable to anyone who's spent time in an urban neighborhood bar. The characters of Haycraft and Mather in particular were poignantly drawn -- I've known several men these characters could be based upon.

Gann's writing is first-rate, as you would expect from somebody with his credentials. Nods to Cervantes's masterwork are purposeful and enrich the story. What the reviewer felt was disjointed worked well for me, namely narrator changes amongst the characters.

I don't want to spoil the ending so I will merely hint at my opinion by saying I might have preferred a more jarring climax.

Again, 4 of 5 stars.
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