cover image You & Me

You & Me

Padgett Powell. Ecco, $23.99 (208p) ISBN 978-0-06-212613-9

Powell (The Interrogative Mood) asks what happens to a novel when it’s stripped of exposition, setting, and plot. What remains is dialogue, the sort of ribald dialogue that Barry Hannah’s liars might cast out over the water, pining for sex, drink, and some answers. Here, two old nameless “weirdly agreeable dudes” talk in circles about suicide, childhood, and split-shot fishing weights, and wonder aloud if they might go to the “liquor bunker” or “go down to the creek and stare Despair down” in their “not upscale neighborhood.” They’re nearly as funny as Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon—an inevitable comparison for a duo who point out the word “action” is not even a verb. But Beckett’s characters are played by real men who move about a stage and fight with other players and wait with purpose. Our dime-store philosophers wait for no one but themselves “to engage the world bravely” and become men. No one arrives—not Pozzo, or Lucky, or even a messenger—yet the novel’s penetrating, playful words manage to “pick impossibly heavy shit up” and deliver what one of the characters calls “the perfect nonsense a real dream makes.” Agent: Cynthia Cannell, the Cynthia Cannell Literary Agency. (Aug.)