cover image Pay As You Go

Pay As You Go

Eskor David Johnson. McSweeney’s, $29 (500p) ISBN 978-1-952119-74-3

Johnson’s unbridled debut runs in circles of accelerating grandiosity and lunacy. Slide has been in the big city of Polis for two months and feels marooned in the chaos. He’s low man on the totem pole at the barber shop where he works and is constantly at odds with his quirky roommates, Eustace and Calumet. Abundant oddballs float through his orbit, like the florid novelist Sir Artem Borand and Madame Lupont, the maternal manager at Calumet’s previous place of employment. Polis, with its subway, rats, and mean streets, resembles New York or Chicago, but is purposely off-center enough to accommodate the outrageous characters that Slide encounters when he moves out of his awkward living situation. Just as Polis is an unknown city, Johnson makes Slide a blank slate with no documented past. A parade of larger-than-life characters traipse through his life, and he becomes a soldier of sorts, a gangster, and eventually a celebrity under the tutelage of the wise seductress Monica Iñes. It’s a familiar template, and Johnson meets its challenges with panache and imagination. Piquant titles, like “That Lady Is Swallowing a Sword,” are dropped intermittently into Slide’s odyssey, underscoring its irony and reinforcing its episodic nature. This big, buoyant adventure feels both ebulliently modern and transparently classical. Agent: Andrea Somberg, Harvey Klinger. (Oct.)