Carnival Wolves


Alan Johnson is a man ill-at-ease among people and only slightly more comfortable with animals. His story begins in upstate New York with his rescue of an injured Dalmatian who "came down out of the sky and survived the fall, showed me how gradually I have fallen--how I never touch, never really talk to another person...I am hardly a person at all." The dog heals and is returned to its neglectful owner, but Alan Johnson steals it back and heads west in search of what it means to...
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Alan Johnson is a man ill-at-ease among people and only slightly more comfortable with animals. His story begins in upstate New York with his rescue of an injured Dalmatian who "came down out of the sky and survived the fall, showed me how gradually I have fallen--how I never touch, never really talk to another person...I am hardly a person at all." The dog heals and is returned to its neglectful owner, but Alan Johnson steals it back and heads west in search of what it means to be human.

As he crosses the United States, he moves through landscapes full of animals half-tamed and people run wild: a fanatical taxidermist, a lonely woman raising tigers on her remote ranch, a tragic circus chimp named Rufus, contemporary polygamists, and the caretakers of boot camps for troubled youths. They are Carnival Wolves, manifestations of our attempts to tame what is dangerous and wild, distorted reflections of parts of ourselves.

After a tortuous journey through various states of depravity--and of America--Alan Johnson ends up in California having reached a reconciliation of instincts and having found a human being he can love. A gripping, hallucinatory read, Carnival Wolves is a provocation, a plea for identification that questions the humanity of its readers and confirms Peter Rock as a unique literary talent.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
"I am hardly a person at all," narrator Alan Johnson confesses at the beginning of this remarkable novel--a beautifully written, funny, deliberately twisted travelogue across the geographic and emotional states of America. Fleeing an unsatisfying life as a museum guard in upstate New York, Alan and a distrustful Dalmatian (which has fallen off a bridge and landed at his feet) traverse harsh, surreal landscapes in Wisconsin, Utah, California and other far-flung locales, searching for human connection. Along the way, Alan encounters--and often relinquishes narrative duties to--a bizarre menagerie of men, women and animals, including Eddie Polenka, a horrifically imaginative taxidermist; Claudia, a neglected wife who watches over her absent husband's contraband lions and tigers while engaging Alan in S&M games; a dazed hitchhiker who sports a three-inch tail dangling from her spine; and Rufus, a Las Vegas circus chimpanzee who tears apart his owner's hapless, drug-running lackey. Following equally memorable run-ins with polygamists and religious zealots, Alan hooks up with Miriam, an unlikely savior with rings on all 10 toes, and escapes to L.A. where, in a dingy apartment, he comes to understand the value of his extraordinary experiences. With considerable depth of characterization and an unerring sense of detail and atmosphere, Rock (This Is the Place) retains cohesiveness and compassion throughout his intricately structured story, which might read like an updated Travels with Charley if Steinbeck's companions had been Paul Auster, P.T. Barnum and Joseph Smith. Editor, Tina Pohlman; agent, Leigh Feldman. (Aug.)
Library Journal
"Only connect," advised E.M. Forster, but in Rock's nightmare vision of contemporary America, there's little chance of heeding Forster's recommendation. This disappointing second book (after This Is the Place, LJ 3/1/97), an episodic road novel, follows Alan Johnson's bad trip across the United States with a dog he doesn't particularly like (and the feeling is mutual). The various people Alan meets all seem to be drifting into an abyss of depravity; all are surrounded by a palpable, menacing evil. These characters include a taxidermist with a love of killing, a woman on a secluded Montana ranch raising tigers for rich men's private hunting clubs, a wife on the run from her polygamous Mormon husband, a group of survivalists, and a murderous chimpanzee. Rock does a superb job of conveying a sense of paranoia and uneasiness endemic to the late 20th century. Unfortunately, he does not give the reader any reason to care enough about Alan Johnson to take much interest in what happens to him or the people he meets. Recommended only for comprehensive fiction collections.--Nancy Pearl, Washington Ctr for the Book, Seattle
Kirkus Reviews
In this spooky, sharply written second novel, a social misfit rambles through classic American Badlands territory, emerging with newborn sanity and decency despite the odds. Utah-born Rock (This Is The Place, 1997) mines a crystalline vein by slipping his wandering cipher of a protagonist, Alan, into one scene after another in which modern dysfunction and rural claustrophobia combine with horrific possibility. Museum guard Alan is sprung from his life back East when a dalmatian falls down a cliff and lands at his feet. A protoþTravis Bickle, with potential for good or evil, steals the injured dog from its callous owner, the first of a series of characters who train, trap, torture, or otherwise dominate animals (and, by extension, people). The fractured, off-center narrative short-circuits conventional thriller/serial-killer conventions, so that Alan at first barely inhabits each set pieceþan encounter on the frozen Great Lakes with a solitary woman; a strange saving friendship with Upper Wisconsin recluse Eddie Polenka, whose barn is full of "unrealistically" stuffed animals and who hints at a crowning achievement (skinning a woman). Meanwhile, Alan's presence grows less peripheral, and his humanity increases by hard-won increments, through progressive psychic ordeals: as a mechanic for a Montana doomsday cult, lover of a woman who raises tigers for illegal big-game hunting ranches in Texas, witness to a polygamous Mormon village. Full of scenes of zoos, race tracks, farms, and a boot camp for rebellious teens, the novel underscores the frail divide between so-called social man and the animals he subjugates. Despite the burden of its sometimes autistic narrativestructure, and a few too many enigmatic interactions, hereþs fiction thatþs often exciting to read for all the old reasons: voice, vision, talent, guts.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780385492096
  • Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
  • Publication date: 8/28/1998
  • Edition description: 1 ANCHOR
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 288
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 0.70 (d)

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