Lately the books I've been looking forward to the most have disappointed me. Some of my favorite writers -- Jonathan Carroll, Mil Millington, Russell Hoban -- all had new books come out recently and none of them lived up to my expectations. Maybe that's my fault. Maybe my expectations are unrealistic. Maybe I need to pick up books without any expectations. I'm not sure how to do that with authors I like, but I had no expectations of "Whale Music" by Pauk Quarrington. I just picked it up to have something to read at the beach. It's a novel about Desmond Howl, who had a string of hits in the 60s about girls and cars, but lost his mind somewhere along the way, now living alone, spending a lot of time in his swimming pool and working on a pie-eyed project. If it sounds a lot like Brian Wilson that's not an accident. Brian Wilson himself has stated “Whale Music is the best book written about the Beach Boys”. But to me it's less of a story about music and madness and family and art, and mostly a love story. A young woman dealing with some psychological issues of her own makes some progress at drawing Desmond out of his cocoon, and he realizes he loves her right about the time he finally drives her away. Here he conquers his agoraphobia and asks a bartender if he's seen her:
"(She) has long golden hair. Her eyes are green, except for when she is angered, at which time they become tinged ever so slightly with a steely gray. Many people would call her mouth oversized, her lips too full, but this is a matter of taste, I myself would differ. She is slight of build, small-breasted, well-proportioned."
"Haven't seen her," Pete snaps.
"Her name is Claire."
"Means nothing," says Pete.
"Imagine a wheat field. A hot summer's day. Overnight a carnival has arrived, a Ferris wheel and hot-dog stand. A clown races around doing pratfalls."
"Oh, yeah," nods Pete. "She was in the day before yesterday."
I loved this book so much I was tempted to start it over and reread it as soon as I finished it. (I didn't only because I didn't want to hear all the teasing my sister, the Literary Terminator, would give me.) The only criticism I have of the book is that the female characters did not seem as three-dimensional to me as the male characters. Other than that, the only thing that bothered me was a minor nitpick. There's a guru character in the book named Babboo Nass Fazoo, and I just can't believe nobody ever said anything about the fact that his name would be pronounced the same as "Babboon Ass." Other than that, a magnificent book. I am now actively seeking out more of Quarrington's work. I'll try not to have any expectations of it, however.