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Skirt and the Fiddle
by Tristan Egolf
(Grove Press, 2002)

"Skirt and the Fiddle" is not for the weak-stomached. But if your ears prick up when a story starts with, "we were so wasted . . ." then it might just be the novel for you.

Charlie Evans, a.k.a. "Hanoi Jackson," is the son of a Cambodian prostitute and a black American soldier. After spending a childhood in foster homes and becoming a concert violinist, he decides he's had it with music gigs, and takes to a flophouse and a life of drink. He makes money working at a deli and illegally killing rats in the sewers - and Egolf treats the reader to more graphic information that you could ever hope for about exterminating rats with an old pipe. Most of the novel follows the debaucherouos exploits of Charlie and his buddy Greetz, as they binge on substances, crimes and chaos. Enter Louise Gascoygne, a classy, too-perfect love interest, basically Charlie's wet dream in the flesh, who steps in to save Charlie from himself. By the end of the novel they are on their way towards happily ever after.

Other Book Reviews:

Skirt and the Fiddle
- Tristan Egolf

- Arthur Bradford

Nowhere Man
- Aleksandar Hemon

The Book of Illusions
- Paul Auster

Lightning Field
- Dana Spiotta

It's a Free Country
- Danny Goldberg

Some of the Parts
- T Cooper

- Jonathon Dee

The White
- Deborah Larsen
Into the Buzzsaw
- Kristina Borjesson

- Ian McEwan

The Black Veil
- Rick Moody

Tempting Faith DiNapoli
- Lisa Gabriele

- Lynn Breedlove

Africa Speaks
- Mark Goldblatt

The Shape of a Pocket
- John Berger

Media Unlimited
- Todd Gitlin

Carter Beats the Devil
- Glen David Gold

Somebody's Gotta Tell It!
Jack Newfield
Violence, Nudity, Adult Content
- Vince Passaro

Perpetual War For Perpetual Peace
- Gore Vidal
The War Against Cliche
- Martin Amis
Look at Me
- Jennifer Egan

Them: Adventures With Extremists
- Jon Ronson

Tishomingo Blues
- Elmore Leonard

Letters to a Young Contrarian Christopher Hitchens
With Love and Squalor
Kip Kotzen and Thomas Beller
Shanghai Baby
Wei Hui
Shop Talk
Philip Roth

Halls of Fame
John D'Agata
This is Not a Novel
David Markson
My Name is Red
Orhan Pamuk
Nickel and Dimed On (Not) Getting By in America
Barbara Ehrenreich
Spreading Misandry
P. Nathanson and K. Young

Improbable? Yes. Egolf has written a fairy tale from the underworld. Much of the narrative reads like a transcript of someone's rambling speed-fueled monologue. It's full of creative, often very funny slang, incomplete sentences, and a slew of biting pop-cultural references. The voice is jumpy and showoffy, eager to impress the reader with its edginess and to glorify Charlie's alcoholism, rushing in Kerouac-wannabe fashion. While the writing is often highly entertaining, the story is ultimately bogged down by cheap thrills. If you don't get your jollies by living vicariously through someone who is constantly gulping down grog and crashing into things, then you will find the novel lacking.

Some of the strongest moments are the rare times when Charlie the alcoholic overlaps with Charlie the violinist. For example, at the end of one dismal evening when Charlie is drunk, has lost a fight, and is passing out with his face against the kitchen floor, there is a quirky passage where in his semi-consciousness he is able to note to himself the exact piece of music that he hears playing on NPR. But unfortunately Egolf does not give us enough of these moments to make his novel much more than a juvenile free-for-all.

-- Christine Leahy

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[email protected] | January 2003 | Issue 34
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