Charles Bukowski has returned in a younger and better-looking body and now goes by the name of Patrick deWitt. It's not that deWitt writes like Bukowski; he doesn't. Where Buke wrote pretty simply, in a fashion where the words butted up against one another, this author writes in a more legato style in which sentences flow and gently wrap around the words that came before. But the subject matter is the same, and maybe that's where you find the comparison.
The story here revolves around a barman ("You") who gradually ends up swallowing more than he's pouring. He interacts with a variety of characters including hookers, losers, drug addicts, and the lost. The book is approached from a second-person point of view because the author has written this as if the finished novel is simply a collection of notes for a book that will be composed at a later date.
Hence, chapter 1: "Discuss the regulars. They sit in a line like ugly, huddled birds, eyes wet with alcohol. They whisper into their cups and seem to be gloating about something - you will never know what."
Second person is not a desirable voice for a novel, but this works - all the way until the end. "You," the barman, has slowly pilfered monies from the bar at which he works. He has a bag loaded with money and is on his way out of California (the bar is located in a seedy part of Hollywood). Leaving Los Angeles, the final paragraph reads:
"Time passes and you shake your head. 'Work will drive you crazy if you let it,' you say. You do not speak for a long time after this."
The author risks the entire book on this ending, and it fails. Terribly. Because the book was meant as a gathering of notes and not as a finished piece, this last paragraph - and indeed the last several pages - are meant to be read as rough sketches. And not a fitting and final ending. The entire book is washed down a dirty drain with these closing comments. The writer pushes it too far, and instead of flying, it falls to a bloody death.
But everything else here sparkles with dark humor and the irony of a loser who wins. A wonderful debut for deWitt.