Going to See the Elephant

Though set in the present day, Rodes Fishburne’s Going to See the Elephant is cast from that sepia-toned San Francisco touched by the fantastic favored by many of today?s novelists. The protagonist, Slater Brown, is a young writer come to the big city to make his living. He finds work at a withering newspaper staffed by quintessential, hardened newspapermen straight out of a Marvel comic strip. Brown becomes a wildly successful muckracker overnight when his landlady gives him a transistor radio that (echoing John Cheever?s story ?The Enormous Radio?) picks up the city?s phone conversations while Brown rides the bus. The failing paper is saved; the corrupt mayor, whose schemes Brown has been exposing weekly, vows to demolish him — but, as in all good novels of this ilk, an ill-fated love affair destroys the reporter quite nicely. Meanwhile, a famed inventor creates a computer that can make weather, which is unleashed all over San Francisco, and Brown?s reporting skills are needed one final time. Going to See the Elephant is threaded with a sly, engaging humor. When a beautiful socialite planted by the mayor to uncover Brown?s secret scoop-grabbing skills puts the moves on the intrepid protagonist, the narrator observes, ?For young women like Brooke van der Snoot the world was divided not into black and white or even rich and poor, but rather into cute and not cute.? And there is Fishburne?s San Francisco — a magical dream city on a bay so placid a young, wildly successful reporter can paddle a beautiful, mysterious chess star in a rowboat from Fisherman?s Wharf to a cove on Alcatraz Island for a picnic lunch, and the worst that happens is the tide flees before they can return. It?s a place San Franciscans won?t recognize but readers will love.