From the Publisher
"Part ghost story, part psychological mystery and part vaudeville show. Think Scheherazade by way of “Tristram Shandy” by way of “The Sixth Sense.”—Washington Post
"A tour de force in its mastery of styles, the book also has moments of high silliness—though toward the end Donohue weaves the threads of plot together in a surprising and affecting way."—Kirkus Reviews
"Donohue's faultless eye for character and keen sense of humor keeps what could easily become a muddled mess pristine, with members of his quorum shining individually but also acting as cogs in the larger story's machinery. There are moments when the reader is left to wonder how things can possibly come together, but it's worthwhile to trust Donohue's narrators as they lead this puzzling and greatly satisfying trip."—Publishers Weekly
“Donohue’s polished prose holds the story together and offers a more than satisfying ending.”—Booklist
“VERDICT: Donohue’s tour de force blends aspects of time travel and reincarnation genres into a witty whole. With a touch of David Mitchell and Audrey Niffenegger, but a witty style uniquely the author’s own, this novel about a clueless man, who may in some future life get it right, is a pleasure to read.”—Library Journal
“[T]he product here is uniquely Donohue, and the craft seamless in the spinning of an absorbing skein of yarns in a marvelous display of voice weaving together to form a single tapestry: a “parti-colored utterance” (to quote Annie Dillard) unfolding about love, mortality, men and women, memory, family, and the fundamental force of storytelling.” —Buffalo News
From the Hardcover edition.
Face down on the bathroom floor after "a conk on the skull," Jack, the narrator of Donohue's unconventional latest (after Angels of Destruction), embarks on an epic and darkly funny journey through time and space without traveling much beyond his own bathroom. Visited by seven ghostly women, and eventually his wife, Jack stands in for disappointing men throughout history as each of the phantom visitors tells him her life story. From Dolly, the Tlingit woman who marries a shape-shifting bear, to Alice, who winds up on the wrong end of the Salem witch trials, and Bunny, a New York City housewife whose search for love goes very wrong, the women each accuse Jack, tell their story, and then fade into a chorus with the others. When Jack finally hears out his own wife, the reason for the night's events—including stopped clocks, talking cats, and what could be the ghost of Samuel Beckett—becomes clear. Donohue's faultless eye for character and keen sense of humor keeps what could easily become a muddled mess pristine, with members of his quorum shining individually but also acting as cogs in the larger story's machinery. There are moments when the reader is left to wonder how things can possibly come together, but it's worthwhile to trust Donohue's narrators as they lead this puzzling and greatly satisfying trip. (May)
A man's late-night visit to the bathroom results in a fall, opening a hole in his head through which a parade of women from his past lives enter one by one. Each woman bears a grievous anger toward the narrator, who, in the course of their relationship, deserted or destroyed her. Centuries of American history are viewed through these relationships, and each chapter of his previous lives is beautifully reported in the prose of the day. The reader meets a member of the Tlingit tribe in the time before Europeans arrived. There are the Colonists on their way to Jamestown. The Salem witch trials are re-created, as is life for a slave in New Orleans, as well as the California gold rush, before the novel moves into the 20th century with early baseball then the flappers. VERDICT Donohue's (Angels of Destruction; The Stolen Child) tour de force blends aspects of the time travel and reincarnation genres into a witty whole. With a touch of David Mitchell and Audrey Niffenegger, but a witty style uniquely the author's own, this novel about a clueless man, who may in some future life get it right, is a pleasure to read. [See Prepub Alert, 11/15/10.]—Andrea Kempf, formerly with Johnson Cty. Community Coll. Lib., Overland Park, KS
A novel that is sui generis—part fantasy, part realism, part dream-vision.
Donohue starts the narrative by setting a challenging task—sustaining a 350-page novel that essentially takes place in a bathroom and bedroom. He works out the technical problem by having his narrator take a fall in the bathroom, and this tumble leads to visions, specifically a vision of eight attractive women inhabiting his bed. Each has a story to tell, and Donohue lets them speak with different voices and in different styles (appropriate because they come from different historical periods). These narrators include Jane (aka Long John Long), who as a young woman disguised herself in male clothing and escaped from her home as a cabin boy. After her ship is blown off course, she begins a long and lusty affair with several other castaways. Another narrator is Alice, who devolves into a witch and becomes deeply involved in the Salem trials in the late 17th century. We also meet the exotic Marie, whose body is covered with tattoos that reveal the story of her life. Originally a slave from Saint-Domingue, she is taken to New Orleans by her master and eventually becomes an exceptional chef. Other storytellers include Flo, who pans for gold in the 19th-century rush, and Bunny, afemme fataleright out of Raymond Chandler (or Billy Wilder). A tour de force in its mastery of styles,the book also has moments of high silliness—though toward the end Donohue weaves the threads of plot together in a surprising and affecting way.
Peculiar and quirky—and sure to appeal to offbeat tastes.
Read an Excerpt
We all fall down. Perhaps it is a case of bad karma or simply a matter of being more prone to life’s little accidents, but I hit my head and fell hard this time around. Facedown on the bathroom floor, I watched my blood escape from me, spreading across the cool ceramic tiles like an oil slick, too bright and theatrical to be real. A scarlet river seeped into the grout, which will be murder to clean. The flow hit the edge of the bathtub and pooled like water behind a dam. I blinked, and in that instant, the blood became a secondary concern to the hole in the back of my head, not so much the fact of the wound, but the persistent sharpness of pain around the edges. Yet even the knot of it weighs lightly against the mysterious cause of my immediate predicament. I have an overpowering urge to reach back and stick my fingers over the wound to investigate the aperture and determine the radius of my consternation, but despite the willful signals of my brain, my arms will not obey, and I cannot alter a single aspect of my situation.
Which is: I have landed in an awkward position. My left arm pinned beneath me, my right extending straight out as if to catch something or break my fall. My legs and lower half stretched out in the dark and silent hall, and on the threshold, bisecting me neatly, would be my belt, if I were wearing any clothes. But I am, regretfully and completely, naked, and the jamb presses uncomfortably into my abdomen and hips. I have a hole in the back of my head and cannot move, although the pain is becoming a distant memory.
Just a second ago, I turned on the light, having awakened in the middle of the night to relieve my bladder, and something struck me down. A conk on the skull and my body pitched to the floor like dead weight. My left shoulder is beginning to throb, so perhaps it struck the edge of the commode as I fell. The bathroom fan hums a monotonous tune, and harsh light pours down from the ceiling fixture. Through the open window, the warm late-night air stirs the curtain from time to time.
Falling seems to have happened in another lifetime. Even as I tumbled, stupefaction began to gnaw at me and consume all. In that nanosecond between the blow and timber, my mind began to hone in on the who and the why. When the hardness struck bone, just at the base of my skull, an inch above my neck, when I began to lose balance and propel headfirst to the fl oor, my vision instantly sharpened as never before. All the objects in the room lost dimension, clarified, flattened as if outlined in sharp bold black, a cartoon of space. I saw, for the very first time, the cunning design of the sink, the way the dish and the soap were made for each other. The nickel handles curved for the hand, the faucet preened like a swan. A hairbrush, its teeth clogged with the tangles of many crowns, lay pointed in the wrong direction; that is, the handle was on the inside of the counter rather than the more conventional placement at the outer edge. A fine coating of mineral deposit from a thousand showers clung to the folds of the partially opened curtain, and one of the aquamarine rings had lost its grip on the deep blue plastic fabric, forlorn and forgotten on the rod. The floor sped to meet my face. Not just the pleasing geometry of tiles, but all the detritus of the human body, the hair and scruff and leavings, and as I fell, I thought a good scrubbing was definitely overdue.
Bathrooms are the most dangerous place in a house. With daily weather conditions approaching levels found in the Amazon, germs and other microbes flourish, and bacteria reproduce in unrelenting blooms across every moist surface. One could easily perish here. Seventy percent of all house hold accidents occur in this room and, in addition to hitting one’s head, include scalding, fainting from an excess of heat and humidity, poisoning, and electrocution. Because we spend so much leisure and indulge in self-pampering—long soaks in warm baths, ablutions, digestive relief, perfuming our hair and bodies, scraping away unwanted hairs, polishing our teeth, trimming our nails, reading the funny pages—the bathroom seems as warm and wet as mother’s womb, yet it is a death trap all the same.
From the Hardcover edition.