From Library Journal
- Robert H. Dona hugh, formerly with Youngstown & Mahoning Cty. P.L., Ohio
Copyright 1991 Reed Business Information, Inc.
We come to 1991, and to The Hereafter Gang (Mark V. Ziesing, 1991), and we simply do not know what to think. The book itself is attractively produced, and distributed widely within the sf world; but there seems no way, all the same, that a small press like Ziesing can hope to muscle into the chains. It seems unlikely, therefore, that this second potential breakthrough novel will reach the very wide readership it deserves. The Hereafter Gang is almost as hilarious as Larry McMurtry s Texasville, and less earthbound; nearly as haunted as Thomas Pynchon's Vineland, and less suffocating. Like both those books, it attempts to hold on to America as the century blows us away; like neither of them, it bites the bullet, in language of tensile brilliance. In The Hereafter Gang, the only way to recapture the past or to hold on to the present is to die.
Doug Hoover is 58 years old but looks 35. He lies about his age, not through vanity, but so he can continue living the life he wants to lead, which means avoiding permanent employment, and sleeping with alnost every woman he meets. Suddenly he finds that he has gotten stuck. He is becoming far too successful in his job public relations work in Dallas and is now due for promotion, and he discovers that he seems to have been married for several years to one woman, Erlene Lamprey, who owns one book in the world and whose. "idea of outdoors was a windchime in front of the A/C." It is time to light out for the Territory, like Huck Finn.
But at the end of the century, in the heart of Dallas, there s not much territory to light out for. Ricocheting from one bar to another, and frightened half to death by a succession of terrible, sharp chest pains, Doug skedaddles into the world of memories: the sharp scents and colors of youth; the precious polished cars and toys and girls of his early years. Guided by an amiable young drifter, with whom he identifies, and seduced by a sweet-and-sour teenaged "Southern girl," he exits the no-exit freeways of 990 and immerses himself in the past.
In other words, Doug Hoover has died. The Hereafter Gang is a posthumous fantasy. Like similar work by a wide variety of writers, from Vladimir Nabokov to Flann O Brien, from John Crowley to Gene Wolfe, it tells of a hero who, after the death of the body, must sift through the materials of the life he has left in order to make sense of his naked soul. But posthumous fantasies tend to slide all too easily into intolerable solitude, as the hero narrows in on himself; and it is here that Barrett leaps sideways from his models. The posthumous landscapes visited by Doug are peopled: the folk he loved, the small towns he grew up in, the beverages he drank, the World War I planes he made models of, the Western heroes he emulated, all congregate. His search for order turns into a clambake.
At this point, the novel risks becoming a feelgood traipse through theme park suburbs of the dead, full of portion-control sweetness and light. It is a dangerous moment, but Barrett gets past it with great skill. After all the sleek contrivance of the plot, and the strange exhilaration of a posthumous landscape next to which the real world seems impossibly scarred and tawdry, The Hereafter Gang finds itself in the American soul of its hero. In Doug, Barrett has created a figure too complex and ornery to sort himself out glibly, and too American to go quietly into the good night; an awful man, and almost a great one. Nothing Doug has done in his life is alien to him, nothing is turned away. The dreadful and the garish and the good, he embraces it all. The Hereafter Gang is a celebration of this embrace. It is one of the great American novels. Try to find it. (WASHINGTON POST (hardback edition)Sunday, June 30, 1991) -- WASHINGTON POST Sunday, June 30, 1991