From Publishers Weekly
In discrete, delightfully composed vignettes, Sutin, a biographer of Aleister Crowley and Philip K. Dick, tells the rags-to-riches story of a French peasant farmer. Born in 1900 on a farm in eastern France, Hector de Saint-Aureole, the humble protagonist of this clever pseudobiography, gravitates first to Paris, where he works as a renderer in an abattoir, then to London, where he becomes a barman in Bloomsbury. Luck strikes the young man in the form of a friendship with a Scotsman who dies and leaves Hector his considerable estate: a fortune to assure a lifetime of ease and choice. Hector sets out to explore the world, determined to leave a record of his passage, which takes the shape of his life's opus, When to Go into the Water
. Sutin alternates this factual-sounding narrative of Hector's journeys with more contemporary dispatches about readers who have over the decades come upon Hector's work, e.g., a fading male movie star of the 1990s. It's fascinating to watch Sutin turn his biographer's wiles toward fiction, and the result is charmingly original and intelligent. (May)
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This slim novella is labeled experimental fiction, but never fear. Although it proceeds in long paragraphs instead of chapters, illustrated by six peculiar photos and a Hindu prayer card, it is, except for the paragraph in which the hero is lost in the woods, quite accessible and drolly absorbing. It relates the life of Hector de Saint-Aureole (1900–67) and tidbits about the readers of Hector’s book When to Go into the Water, one of whom is a movie star of declining fortunes who marries Hector’s daughter in 1999. Born poor in rural northern France, Hector is dowsed with cold water by his father after World War I and dispatched to fend for himself. Bright enough but hardly enterprising, he is left a prodigious fortune by a patron of the bar he tends and thereafter travels incessantly. He is visited by two deities over the years, falls in unrequited love twice, and at 50 takes up with a 30-year-old Irishwoman. Each paragraph of his and his readers’ devastatingly tangential travails glows with mild, wacky beauty. Delicious. --Ray Olson