Ablutions: Notes for a Novel
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Ablutions: Notes for a Novel

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by Patrick deWitt

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"… dark and provocative … deWitt has painted a portrait of the human condition … And ABLUTIONS has achieved something remarkable."—The New York Times Book Review

"… deWitt's writing is sharp and bitter and funny … "—Los Angeles Times

"DeWitt's dirty realism makes me want to roll in the mud with him. Brilliant."—Gary Shteyngart, author of Absurdistan

"Viciously hilarious … deWitt’s portrayal of the drinking life is staunchly unromantic."—Time Out New York (Five stars; Book of the day)

"These scenes are stunningly depicted … deWitt writes beautifully about ugliness, and his book casts a haunting spell."—Booklist

"DeWitt's style of prose is refreshing and more like real life speak than most books, without losing the necessary descriptiveness to relay the feel and pure nuttiness of the situation inside the Hollywood bar where the scenes are set."—About.com

"Ablutions is like an intense art-house movie, where the lead actor is in every scene but makes the whole thing sparkle with his star power."—The Oregonian

"Ablutions is funny and precarious, a novel that shifts the ground under the reader's feet, a naked-lightbulb self-examination that doesn't shy from high comedy. DeWitt has a gimlet eye and a dead aim with words."—Luc Sante, author of Low Life

"Patrick deWitt's writing is deeply charismatic—a coiled ramble of note perfect sentences, mysterious and burbling declarative tones, the saddest humor imaginable, and the strange physical proportions of a magician's top hat. I was equally taken aback by the needling brilliance that surfaces at its every turn and riveted by the brains and heart it must have taken to finesse such a clearly broken down yet perfectly clear and penetrating world. I love this novel very much."—Dennis Cooper

“Patrick deWitt is the 21st century poet of Hollywood's desperate souls, the misbegotten, broken, and the lost. He writes with a fierce compassion about people treading the vague boundary between homicide and self-destruction, loveless sex and sexless love, all lined up and looking into our own culturally shared abyss. Beware, beware. But read Ablutions.”—Chris Offutt, author of No Heroes: A Memoir of Coming Home

"Ablutions is a novel about the deteriorating health of our livers and the malaise of our dreams. Perverse in its humor, but ultimately about our potential for redemption, it's riotously funny and cripplingly sad all at the same time. Patrick DeWitt takes on our diseases and depravity with prose that may yet rescue us from the gutter."—Salvador Plascencia, author of The People of Paper


“A hypnotic cross between Lorrie Moore and Denis Johnson.”—Seattle Weekly

“Something truly fresh, something that gave me a reading experience as shivery and enlivening as I’ve had in a long time.”—Dennis Cooper, author of Closer, The Sluts, and God Jr.

Product Details

Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.90(h) x 0.60(d)

Read an Excerpt

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. Some have jobs, children, spouses, cars, and mortgages, while others live with their parents or in transient motels and are on government assistance, a curious balance of classes particular to the parts of Hollywood devoid of klieg lights and make-believe. There are sometimes limousines at the curb out front; other nights feature police cars and ambulances and vicious street scenarios. The bar interior resembles a sunken luxury liner of the early 1900s, mahogany and brass, black-burgundy leather coated in dust and ash. It is impossible to know how many times the ownership has changed hands.

     The regulars are warm with one another but generally come and go alone and as far as you can tell have never been to one another’s homes. This makes you lonely and the hearts of the world seem cold and stingy and you are reminded of the saying, every man for himself, which as a child made you want to lie down and "be killed."

     You do not take much stock in the North American definition of the word but you suppose these people are alcoholics. They like you, or anyway are used to you, and they reach out to touch you when you pass as though you are a good-luck gambling charm. You once found this repulsive and would circle the bar with your back hugging the wall rather than move through the network of fleshy red hands, but you have reconciled yourself to the attention and it has become familiar, even enjoyable for you. It now feels more like a commendation than an intrusion, recognition of your difficult job, and you nod and smile as the hands grab you around the waist, rubbing and slapping your back and belly.

     From your post at the side bar entrance you watch them watch themselves in the mirror behind the bar. Preening, pecking, satisfied by their reflections — what do they see in their murky silhouettes? You wonder keenly about their lives prior to their residence here. Strange as it seems, they must have been regulars at some other Hollywood bar, but had moved on or been asked to move on, and they sought out a new retreat, settling down with the first free beer or kind word, some bartender’s impotent joke mutilated beyond recognition in its endless retelling. And the regulars turned to tell the joke once more.

     You wonder also about their present lives but to make inquiries is purposeless — the regulars are all sensational liars. But 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 barstool, upon which they sip the same drink. And if a bartender forgets a regular’s usual, the regular is cut down and his eyes swell with a lost suffering. Why? It bothers you to know that the truth will never reveal itself spontaneously and you keep on your toes for clues.

When you first come to work at the bar you drink Claymore, the least expensive or what is called the well scotch. This was your brand when you were out in the world and you are happy to finally find a never-ending, complimentary supply. You have been at the bar for two years, drinking Claymore in great quantity, sometimes straight, oftentimes with ginger ale or cola, before the manager, Simon, asks why you don’t drink the quality liquors. "There aren’t many upsides to the life, but I drink the best booze," he says. And so each night you sample a different scotch or whiskey. There are more than forty-five different types of scotch and whiskey and you are very tired at the end of your quest but you find at long last the quality liquor Simon spoke of. As someone who spends a good deal of time surrounded by alcohol, people often ask what you drink, and now you do not shrug or cough but look up and say directly, "I drink John Jameson finest Irish whiskey."

You fall in love with Jameson Irish whiskey. Previously when you held a bottle of alcohol in your hands you felt a comfort in knowing that its contents would simultaneously deaden and heighten your limited view of the world but you did not care for the actual bottle, as you do now with Jameson, you did not trace your hands over the raised lettering and study the exquisite script. One night you are alone in the back bar doing just this — the bottle is in your hands and you are mooning over the curlicues at the base of the label — and the name John Jameson brings into your head the child’s tune "John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt." You are humming this to yourself when Simon, the man responsible for your discovery of Jameson whiskey, enters the bar singing aloud this very same song. He waves to you and walks past, into the front bar, and you are staring in disbelief because there is no explaining so obscure a coincidence and you feel you have been visited by the strongest of omens. Good or bad, you do not know. There is nothing to do but wait and see.

     Now a group of drunks up front have picked up the song and are singing in the single voice of a runaway giant.

Meet the Author

Patrick deWitt is also the author of the Booker shortlisted novel The Sisters Brothers. He was born in 1975 on Vancouver Island in British Columbia and has also lived in California, Washington, and Oregon, where he currently resides with his wife and son. He has worked as a laborer, a clerk, a dishwasher, and a bartender. Ablutions is his first novel.

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Ablutions: Notes for a Novel 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 11 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book was phenomenal. I love how deeply sick the author makes all of his characters seem, it's absolutley engrossing. The love affair DeWitt creates between You and substance was magical. Though often times depressing, cynical, and outwardly cruel the book was at the same time charming, simple and yes, laugh out loud funny. The plot line ranged from a broken marriage, to a good luck car, to a Hollywood bar that was also on the verge of collapse, and eventually to hookers and mounds of coke. If you like Bukowski, or can enjoy shoe gaze tunes, this book is the read for you. You have to really apprieciate a beautiful "downer" novel when one with taste like this is published.
PatPR More than 1 year ago
I think the above reviewer means that it was written in the 2nd person, because it was. Anyway, this short book is composed with a very fresh style. It's funny, sad, hopeful at times and more than anything very real. It's loose as far as story goes, but still the pages keep turning. I recommend.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This debut novel's subject matter is often hard to take, but deWitt's barman in a seedy Hollywood bar describes the 'regulars' with a hypnotically poetic voice all his own. I find myself rereading passages for the sheer pleasure of the music in the words. Witty, sometimes shocking, this spare portrait of a slow descent into the losses alcoholism is told with an unflinching eye for the truth. I look forward to his next offering (but hope he picks a less gritty story to tell). The kid can write!
Kataman1 More than 1 year ago
The author chose a very different writing style talking in third person but writing like the corrupt bartender (we never find out his name) is telling the story. The bartender meets up with nothing but losers at his bar and when he isn't drunk himself, he is taking undesirable women into the storage room. The writing style was a little difficult for me and it was like a drug addict explaining their drug trip. There were some interesting parts though. One patron is threatened with death at a specific date and the bar patrons decide to protect him and have a party at his apartment on the day he is supposed to die. The party ends up being an orgy with hookers and other wildness. If you like fast and wild tales you will probably like this book. I couldn't give it more than three stars because it is just not my thing.
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