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Posted July 23, 2012
Kenneth Weene's "Tales from the Dew Drop Inne" tells of the Runyonesque regulars at an Albuquerque, New Mexico, bar called the Dew Drop Inne, ala Cheers, but more gritty than glitzy. The Dew Drop Inne is more "an island of floating debris" where people go to drink because there's nobody at home, or too many people, or disagreeable people. Weene immediately apologizes for the book's title: "There must be one of those pun-named bars in every town." Even if the characters do not think of themselves as "the dew drops," that name is at least as appropriate as "the sand pebbles," another lusty crew. Taverns and bar rooms have been scenes for drama and comedy at least since Shakespeare, and "Tales from the Dew Drop Inne" is akin to Saroyan's "The Time of Your Life" (rather than O'Neill's much darker "The Iceman Cometh"), and to the affable bums of Steinbeck's "Cannery Row" and "Sweet Thursday." Saroyan made his start with "colorful characters" like those found in this book, which reads like "The Time of Your Life" updated from the thirties. Weene's smooth style in this, his third novel, moves right along in measured cadences in what seem at first like vignettes (numbering on average 1500-3000 words but occasionally filling out to 6000 words) but shortly begin to read like chapters, drawn together with purse-string sutures by the narrator Calvin. At this late date, it is not easy for an author to create singular characters in an ensemble production, as so many already have been created, but the author here has a poker player's keen eye for the "tell" of his characters - the quirks of their behavior - so that each stands out as an individual. In a fashion not unlike his first novel, "Memoirs from the Asylum," this novel treats with characters who are imprisoned, here just as effectively by alcohol, within the invisible walls of heart and mind, as by the cement and barbed wire of a state institution. In the early chapters, one by one Weene introduces us to a new character, and the character's foibles, gradually weaving the members of the troupe into the tapestry of the tale. The narrative related by Calvin then proceeds episode by detailed episode, patiently layering the reader's understanding of the Dew Drops, their co-dependence, and their skirmishes with the community. Before we are through with the calamities that beset these folks, even Calvin finds himself in a tangle that threatens to see him imprisoned for murder, and desperate for help from his friends. The quarter from which the help comes, however, is one of the more ironic twists in the story. And "Chapter 25 ¿ Wanted" will hit you like a gut punch and leave you gasping. For the first time in a long while, I have wondered, briefly, if I'd like to stop by a local Dew Drop, if I could find one with a snoot-full of characters as interesting as those in Weene's book, instead of the silence of a mortuary. However, I did my time on the nickel, paid my nickel dues, and no longer have the reluctant generosity of spirit that sparks the Dew Drops, if I ever did. They probably would sense that and find a way to suggest I look elsewhere. But it seems to me that Kenneth Weene knows these people very well and that the sensibility he shows in this novel would always make him welcome at any Dew Drop Inne.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 21, 2012
There's one in every town! We can all think of that iconic, almost dive bar, that's got the same customers lined up waiting for the doors to open. It's the kind of place who knows all the regulars by name. They're close knit, almost like family.
The story is told from the point of view of Cal. He and his best friend, Ephraim, live in a boarding house within walking distance of the Dew Drop. Cal warms a stool while Ephraim picks at his guitar and sings.
Sal owns the Dew Drop. He's kind of a stingy old man, but is equally generous in some ways. He watches over his regulars like a father.
Jonny is the pool shark. None of the regulars will play him. He either has to go to different bars or wait for the occasional outsider to walk in so he can get some action.
Sam stutters, Chip gets violent if he drinks tequila and The Captain "Saw Combat". Each character is quirky and interesting in his or her own way. The reader realizes that somewhere in their life, they've met each of these people, whether in the bar or on the street. We've all seen Angelica the transvestite or Ginny, Trish, Sharon and Carol, the barflies.
Tales from the Dew Drop Inne is a fun collection of vignettes, strung together in novel form. Cal moves through his world in a semi-inebriated state. He works a few low paying jobs, making just enough money to pay his rent, buy his beer and put a little aside. He's saving for a bus ticket back to Cedar Rapids, well aware that he will probably never make the trip.
I greatly enjoyed Tales from the Dew Drop Inne. It's lighthearted and entertaining, but leaves the reader thinking about life. Weene has a unique ability to look into the hearts of his characters, finding the best there. I highly recommend this novel.
Posted September 11, 2013
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