Monday, 15 April 2013

Ablutions by Patrick de Witt

Subtitled Notes for a Novel, Ablutions is a second person crawl through the broken lives of LA’s drinking classes; ‘you’, the narrator, are a drunken barman who works in a seedy bar frequented by alcoholics, chancers, and derelicts at the end of their luck. It doesn’t help matters very much that the barman is drinking just as much as his customers and spends the majority of this novella thoroughly pickled.


His life is clearly falling apart rapidly. His marriage is collapsing, his behaviour is erratic and frequently dangerous to both himself and others and his health is deteriorating fast. Periodically, he does however decide to go on a health kick and give the hard liquor a rest for a while:

You are often drinking or drunk but lately are dependent more on beer than whiskey. Your motive is to give aid to your liver, flush the redness from your face and neck, and appease your wife. For a time the campaign is a success: You feel healthier and an unknown energy illuminates your eyes and limbs and your sleep and appetite are restored, but the beer is fattening and you gain ten pounds; the weight sits like a cat on your stomach and your slim profile is blemished. When some happy-hour funnyman asks how far along you are your vanity is wounded and so it is with great relief and enthusiasm that you return to whiskey, but in your hiatus you have lost your tolerance and the whiskey poisons you and after a week everything tastes like milk. The whiskey itself tastes like milk, cola tastes like milk, anything you eat or drink leaves a taste of milk in your mouth. This has happened before and you are not alarmed, it is merely a sign that you have passed into the arena where your body has divorced itself from your mind. The mind is the master, the place where appetites are formed and born; the body is the servant. The mind has proven to be an unfit leader and the body is taking measures to protect itself from the mind’s desires. For reasons you don’t understand or care to understand this has affected your sense of taste. While the forces of the body and mind battle it out, you comfort yourself with the thought that after all you like the taste of milk and always have, ever since you were a greasy little baby.

Needless to say, he’s back on the hard stuff soon enough. His futile attempts at escape involve a boozy road trip to the Grand Canyon and a final desperate theft of the night’s takings, but he never seems to realise that what he really needs to get away from is the drinking lifestyle itself.

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