A deep and serious look at the interlocked lives of a dozen characters, chiefly that of Robert Weary, a man born to wealth and power who nonetheless takes part in a hapless attempt on the life of American ex-president Richard Nixon, fatally deflecting his own life and that of his friends and family. Napoleon's Retreat is not just the stories of these people and their times, however. It is a collage of narratives, combining in the end to show that our knowing of a thing cannot come without being bent out of all recognition by the act of knowing - and perhaps more importantly by the mythopoeic power of language itself.
Robert Weary narrates all the tales that make up Napoleon's Retreat and is the Napoleon of the title, styling himself Robert Napoleon Weary, and sometimes Robert Napoleon Lajoie, a minor league baseball player of the fifties. Others have their stories. Albert Hess, ex-mercenary soldier, who dies in a Colorado creek during the assassination attempt, and whose head, still talking, continues to spin tales of the past while the cold water flows over him like time itself. There is Monica, sax-player in a band called Vern and the Minnows, who has become the object of Weary's obsessive desire. A shadowy figure known as The Peacock Angel watches from behind a mirror, and the doomed Ellis Rancourt trails through the narrative with the demons nipping at his heels. A monster named Wittgenstein falls in love with Robert Weary, even though her creator, Etienne Bliss, had thought the default gender was male....