Surrealist detective novel ID
June 12, 2019 6:32 AM   Subscribe

Book ID time! It's an American surrealist detective novel, from I think the 50s. We're talking aggressive high-modernist style surrealism, none of Paul Auster's coy impossibilities; the text is jumbled, occasionally incoherent, and overflowing with garish juxtapositions of charged imagery. The protagonist is obsessed with Erle Stanley Gardner's Perry Mason mysteries. The scene I remember most clearly has the protagonist driving into a forest that rapidly becomes over-the-top ominous and foreboding, while his radio screams in stilted all-caps bulletins about an escaped maniac in the area.

I'm almost certain the author is a neglected mid-century experimental fiction writer, not anybody you would typically find in, say, a Barnes & Nobel. Again, it is not Paul Auster. Thanks!
posted by longtime_lurker to Writing & Language (5 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Sounds like one of William S. Burroughs novels about private detective Clem Snide. Although I wouldn't call him "neglected."
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 7:24 AM on June 12 [1 favorite]

It absolutely does sound like Burroughs from what I've written here, but...I don't think that's it. No cut-ups, no routines, and no sci-fi feel. The mood is kind of Candide-ish, as the narrator bumbles forward into private-eyedom based on his fondness for detective novels. The dialogue is stilted, not jargony. Also I knew who Burroughs was at the time (would have been '99 or '00; I found it browsing the stacks at a university library, where it hadn't been checked out for years). Given that I'm a little embarrassed to routinely mention Burroughs without actually having read him, I suspect I'd remember it better if it had been his.

Sorry to threadsit, but I guess this adds some (probably uselessly subjective) detail, so I'm gonna go ahead and post it.
posted by longtime_lurker at 7:51 AM on June 12

So, this doesn't fit in with a lot of your recollections, but could it be The Crying of Lot 49? I mean, it sounds a bit like one of Sara Gran's Claire DeWitt novels, but clearly it isn't.
posted by Fish Sauce at 9:55 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

It sounds a little like it might be Stanley Crawford's Gascoyne.

It's from 1966, and it's definitely the sort of thing that could languish for years on end in a university library without getting deaccessioned. (Note: I have not read this book, but I'm quite fond of some of Crawford's other work. The Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine is extraordinary.)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 2:16 PM on June 12 [1 favorite]

Maybe The Crying of Lot 49 (1966) by Thomas Pynchon? One of the characters is obsessed with Perry Mason and the book is certainly surreal and incoherent. (We had to read it in AP English in high school.)

On preview, I see someone already said this! Seconding!
posted by mmw at 8:26 AM on June 13

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