Ablutions: Notes For A Novel (Review)

Patrick Dewitt

The book jacket states Ablutions is Patrick deWitt’s first novel but it’s really, as the subtitle suggests, notes for a novel — notes made by a nameless fictional bartender working at a down-and-out Hollywood dive. Throughout, we’re introduced to a variety of characters who are patrons of the bar, such as Curtis — a disconsolate man with a law-enforcement fetish — and Merlin, a 70-year-old with short white hair who chain-smokes More cigarettes. We also have Sam, the bar’s principal cocaine dealer, and the teachers, Terese and Teri, who have matching tattoos of worm-ridden apples on their lower backs and who have slept with almost every doorman at the bar. These characters and others show up at various times in the book. They all have one thing in common: They drink a lot and take a lot of drugs. So does the nameless bartender who drinks right along with his customers. He’s married at the beginning of the book, hides his constant hung-over vomiting from his wife, splits from her, sleeps with patrons at the bar, goes on a drunken road trip to the Grand Canyon and, at the end of the book, deals with divorce while being drunk or high on cocaine or both. The images are so fleeting with each character in Ablutions: I didn’t feel like I came to know them beyond their addictive side, and in turn I didn’t care that much. Some of the rambling notes are interesting, I was shocked a few times and felt compelled with the writing other times, but it didn’t keep my interest enough. Ablutions might be a new twist on the classic tale of addiction and its consequences, but too often I found it too disjointed and depressing. Grade: C

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