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Ablutions: Notes for a Novel Hardcover – February 28, 2009

3.8 out of 5 stars 85 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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napkin drawings—he falls hard and soon is practically one of them, save for the fact that his grudging camaraderie has been replaced by a vicious mean streak.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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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 164 pages
  • Publisher: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt; 1 edition (February 28, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0151014981
  • ISBN-13: 978-0151014989
  • Product Dimensions: 8.6 x 5.5 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (85 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #903,118 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By mateo52 VINE VOICE on February 1, 2009
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I'm sure everyone is familiar with the mythological bartender, the one with the comforting visage, friendly attitude and kindly ear to listen to the ramblings of stool warmers and offer trenchant, considered and helpful advice to patrons in search of a little professional assistance from the ostensible psychological analysts' of the real world. This ain't one of `em. The unnamed barkeep of Ablutions is little more than another of the social misfits that frequent the fading tavern of his employment, albeit it with benefits...all the top shelf whiskey he cares to imbibe. This is a man absent genuine friendships which is fortunate since he seems extraordinarily gifted in destroying any relationships he establishes.

Written in an adaptation of the second person epistolary/journal style, the anti-hero documents the comings, goings and exquisite failures of a morose assortment of regulars, irregulars and irremovable denizens of the establishment that almost affords him the opportunity to maintain a subsistence lifestyle. He considers his musings on the idiosyncrasies of the clientele notes for a future novel but what he presents to the reader is the lurid descriptive of societal detritus and he inadvertently places himself at the head of the refuse pile. Slowly, but absolutely not methodically, he begins to realize he is nothing more and quite possibly, much less than the individuals he often ridicules. One cannot help but to feel as though you are an interloper, an unauthorized observer of the progressive descent of an entire class of people. In the ironical humor of the dark underbelly of modern society, there also lies a perverse satisfaction or affirmation of one's own life not being as traumatic as another's; in this book soul after vacant soul is introduced and further decimated.
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As I suggest in my title I found this book to be like a Bukowski book, but without all the self-righteous, condemnation of the world that hasn't seen the light like he has. This made the book much more palatable for me. I normally love this genre so this book found the right audience with me. While not as good as Fante or Hamsun, I think Ablutions will find its place within this genre.

I will say I had a difficult time at the beginning. I found the style to be a little gimmicky, and normally I hate books written in the second person. At the beginning this book was no exception, and I thought about putting it down. What hooked me though were the interesting characters. It was certainly a colorful cast of characters, and with the short length of the book I decided to stick with it. In the end I am happy I did. As I got into the story the second person narrative became background noise unlike many of the other books I have read using this technique. Also what I found gimmicky in the beginning ran its course and the style seemed to mature and smooth out as I read on.

I think anyone who has ever sold booze, and had a tendency towards cynicism and self-destructiveness will be able to relate to this story more than those who have not. It really does something to a person when you see regular customers starting to turn yellow. When a regular lets you know he/she lost their job because they couldn't stay completely sober for eight full hours, and yet here it is your job to keep feeding these people the one thing that is killing them. You're not supposed to tell the guy who no longer has any white in his eyes that maybe he should take a few nights off because he is one of your best customers.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

Given the major cutbacks among the big publishing houses and the tendency over the past decade or so to go with the promise of commercial success, I am very surprised that this book found a publisher outside the small presses. That isn't a criticism. It's just that the style is somewhat experimental and the author, Partick deWitt's prior publishing credits--three in all--were not exactly in top-tier literary journals.

"Notes for a Novel" is an accurate description of what is mostly vignettes centered around the life of the alcoholic and substance addicted bartender/author working at a well-known but now seedy Hollywood bar. That format along with the second person point of view (you), which I can enjoy in a short pieces but often find tedious in a novel, had me convinced I'd hate this. Instead it managed to draw me in. In fact, I couldn't put it down, despite feeling so grimy I wanted to shower. Scary to think about, but no doubt true that so many people drive our highways with that much booze and narcotics in their systems. And not to give anything away, but I hope the first thing this guy did with his money was visit a good dentist.

I can imagine the author struggling to shape all these notes into a compelling novel, then giving up and deciding to just work at threading them together. The result is something masterful that would have come off rather prosaic had he stuck to a standard form. Ablutions has the potential to become one of those breakout word of mouth novels like A Confederacy of Dunces, only happily the author is still with us to enjoy the praise.

At 163 pages, Ablutions is a one-nighter if you can handle the intensity, but however long you take with it is well worth it.
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