Carnival Wolves

Peter Rock, Author
Peter Rock, Author Anchor Books $19 (288p) ISBN 978-0-385-49209-6
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""I am hardly a person at all,"" narrator Alan Johnson confesses at the beginning of this remarkable novel--a beautifully written, funny, deliberately twisted travelogue across the geographic and emotional states of America. Fleeing an unsatisfying life as a museum guard in upstate New York, Alan and a distrustful Dalmatian (which has fallen off a bridge and landed at his feet) traverse harsh, surreal landscapes in Wisconsin, Utah, California and other far-flung locales, searching for human connection. Along the way, Alan encounters--and often relinquishes narrative duties to--a bizarre menagerie of men, women and animals, including Eddie Polenka, a horrifically imaginative taxidermist; Claudia, a neglected wife who watches over her absent husband's contraband lions and tigers while engaging Alan in S&M games; a dazed hitchhiker who sports a three-inch tail dangling from her spine; and Rufus, a Las Vegas circus chimpanzee who tears apart his owner's hapless, drug-running lackey. Following equally memorable run-ins with polygamists and religious zealots, Alan hooks up with Miriam, an unlikely savior with rings on all 10 toes, and escapes to L.A. where, in a dingy apartment, he comes to understand the value of his extraordinary experiences. With considerable depth of characterization and an unerring sense of detail and atmosphere, Rock (This Is the Place) retains cohesiveness and compassion throughout his intricately structured story, which might read like an updated Travels with Charley if Steinbeck's companions had been Paul Auster, P.T. Barnum and Joseph Smith. Editor, Tina Pohlman; agent, Leigh Feldman. (Aug.)
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