A review of Our Napoleon in Rags by Kirby Gann

This is a short book with few chapters and narrative modes that vary occasionally. Gann pins a situation to the story with an epigrammatically precise choice of words. This is a lively response to the question of what kind of book is appropriate to a mad world.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

Our Napoleon in Rags
by Kirby Gann
Ig Publishing
2005, ISBN 0-9752517-3-2, $14.95, 211 pages

The author has written another work of fiction, The Barbarian Parade, is co-editor of A Fine Excess, a collection of contemporary fiction. His short stories have appeared in numerous publications and have received favorable critical notice. He has also taught and he is at present managing editor of Sarabande Books.

Kirby Gann initiates a deliberate decision to write to write beautifully. This poses problems. It places him – and us – at some distance from his characters who must be seen through the convolutions of his verbal play. Since the characters are extreme and his chosen style is successful, this is not a disadvantage.

Gann emphasizes that the bar – the Don Quixote – is the heart of the city, a faltering heart in a faltering city. But the characters are all living on the edge. The edgiest of them is Haycraft Keebler. He survives through a reliance on medication that he will take or not as his inner needs prompt. At the opening of the story he has succeeded in an anarchic act that resulted in the wreck of a city bus and the possible death of an old woman. As a self-styled revolutionary he has compunctions that come and go. He spends a session at the Quixote with a mind-wrecked primitive painter (Mather Williams), a police officer temporarily suspended pending investigation of his conduct (Chesley Sutherland), the couple (Beau and Glenda Stiles) who own and tend the bar and Romeo Díaz, shown here at the beginning of his serious relationship with Anantha Bliss who prefers public nudity. The marginality of the other patrons is made evident in ways that amuse and shock for this is an amusing book in its very dark way.

Haycraft becomes involved with Lambret, a young street hustler, and their erotically edged relationship is one of mentor and student. Beau Stiles gives Chesley Sutherland a glowing character recommendation, undeserved, and Chesley is restored to active duty. Incorrigible in his overbearing exercise of authority, he breaks up a harmless demonstration arranged by Haycraft who is in the manic stage of his disorder. Chesley warns Haycraft that his relationship with Lambret is known and must become a future source of disaster for both of them.

But Haycraft and Mather, both caught up in the tensions of the Quixote group, collide with an unyielding world and come to grief. Lambret’s part in Haycraft’s downfall is slight.

This is a short book with few chapters and narrative modes that vary occasionally. Gann pins a situation to the story with an epigrammatically precise choice of words. This is a lively response to the question of what kind of book is appropriate to a mad world. Highly recommended.

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His book Joyce Country, a guide to persons and places, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places

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