Books narrated by the author carry a special promise, a promise not always kept to hear the text as spoken by its creator suggests that the listener will have a heightened experience of the story. In Ablutions, Patrick deWitt’s depressed drone projects the listless entropy of the committed barfly: his flat inflections are aimed squarely at the bottom of the glass, down among the dregs. It’s an apt choice: the narrator can’t seem to find the energy to leave his bar-bound existence, to make good by his wife and climb out of the rut.
There are unavoidable parallels with Bukowski, but these are superficial. This book is about the thirst for escape from loneliness and from crushing routine, a thirst that is denied relief by deWitt’s joyless delivery. There is also a rich eye for detail: in a world where everything is blurred, the character sketches are vivid, like etchings drawn on the back of a dampened coaster. Regulars and freeloaders, dealers and thieves, has-beens and wannabes all parade for our benefit in a never-ending circle. The alcoholism and associated bad behavior aren’t the main draw here; it’s the colorful interrelations of the bar’s patrons, their need to foster ersatz friendships, bond over booze, and drink away the loneliness. Even the introduction of a supernatural element suggests that deWitt is more interested in commenting on a kind of spiritual vacuum. He is like an anthropologist looking at the bizarre behavior of a subterranean species, through a glass, darkly. He wants to try and understand these regulars in an attempt to understand himself, and whatever keeps him tied to this dead-end life. “You want to know what it is about their existence that fuels the need to inhabit not just the same building every night, but the same bar stool, on which they sip the same drink.”
While there is no judgement of the characters, there is precious little empathy in Ablutions, which serves to alienate. But the pictures deWitt creates are so vivid, like flashbacks to a night of debauchery; you’ll be glad that you dropped by, even happier to leave. Dafydd Phillips
In a famous but declining Hollywood bar works A Barman. Morbidly amused by the decadent decay of his surroundings, he watches the patrons fall into their nightly oblivion, making notes for his novel. In the hope of uncovering their secrets and motives, he establishes tentative friendships with the cast of variously pathological regulars .But as his tenure at the bar continues, he begins to serve himself more often than his customers, and the moments he lives outside the bar become more and more painful: he loses his wife, his way, himself. Trapped by his habits and his loneliness, he realizes he will not survive if he doesn't break free. And so he hatches a terrible, necessary plan of escape and his only chance for redemption.
Step into Ablutions and step behind the bar, below rock bottom, and beyond the everyday take on storytelling for a brilliant, new twist on the classic tale of addiction and its consequences.
©2009 Patrick deWitt (P)2010 Audible, Inc.
A part-time buffoon and ersatz scholar specializing in BS, pedantry, schmaltz and cultural coprophagia.
This is a novel equally about hating work and loving booze. No. That isn't true. This is a novel that is about hating work and drinking booze and hating yourself. It belongs on your untidy shelf next to Under the Volcano, Leaving Las Vegas, Appointment in Samarra and Tender is the Night. IT is a fuzzy, high-energy migrane of a novel and that is part of its clouded brilliance.
In general, listening to a novel that is read by the author is either an inspired or debased choice (like white pants on women). DeWitt was an inspired narrator.
Fictional characters in narrative
Funny style, seeing world from inside one guy's head inside a scene of drunks.
Author narrates quite well.
Yes one session works well for this length and momentum.
I thought DeWitt’s ‘Sister Brothers’ was one of the best books of 2011 so I was anticipating listening to Dewitt’s first book Absolution.
I wish I read this book rather than listened to it. Structurally the work is a collection of character sketches of patrons at a dive bar. In book form these would probably compromise 1 or 2 pages and you could really savour the writing, descriptions, and gallows humour. But on audiobook the descriptions fade from one grotesque to another making the experience of listening to it just a hum of misanthropy.
The book itself is very much like the writing of Buckowski so if you are a fan you might like ‘Absolution’. I had nothing wrong with the message I just wish I experienced it in a different medium.
The narration suits the writing.
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