I won’t conceal the fact that I know Rick Harsch – the author of The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas – personally. What’s best about that – apart from being able to enjoy Rick’s sunny disposition and roguish good looks first-hand, of course – is that sometimes he lets me read his work before it’s published. So I happened to read Eddie Vegas more than four years ago (judging from my history on Goodreads), but, of course, the lazy slob that I can be, I didn’t bother to write a review. The convenient excuse that I told myself was that I found it just the tiniest bit weird to express opinions about an unpublished book. Which is true, but still: now along comes Eddie, having recently been published by River Boat Books – which is fabulous news, as I’ve always cheered for this novel – and I’ve wound up owing Rick a review all this time later. Which worries me, because I usually don’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday.
I’ve started writing this worried that rummaging through my mind for things I remember about Eddie Vegas would be frustrating – and yet, completely unexpectedly, I find myself remembering all these vivid details for some reason. As this is, sadly, definitely not true of every book I happen to read, apparently Eddie has made quite an impression. So let me see what I can remember from more than four years ago.
The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas is a formidable tome in terms of length and complexity, yet it reads effortlessly, smoothly, and very quickly – especially once you get the hang of Rick’s trademark linguistic stunts. I’ve had the fortune of reading much of what Mr Harsch has written, and I don’t suppose he ever disappoints in this regard – but I found that Eddie was truly on (a yet) another level. Still, I don’t feel that Rick ever crosses that fine line between good taste and gratuitous fanciness: while he is indeed an impressively eloquent linguistic delinquent, he is also as hilarious as he’s unrelenting. And his lists, for crying out loud, the lists! They are poems, really: from dirty, drunken ditties to dazzling diatribes such as the horrendous thirty-page list of moronic, imbecilic, and idiotic names – truly pure-blooded American names – for doomsday devices. What am I going on about, you ask? Well, Rick approaches the rather sensitive subject of nuclear tests with the immediacy of a battering ram: instead of wasting any time yammering about it, he just hands us a list of names of each individual nuclear bomb that Americans have ever blown up on their own soil. There is a truckload of them – the list goes on forever – and seeing so much human idiocy in one place is about as bizarre and disturbing as watching the news or checking out your favourite social media stream.
However, Eddie Vegas is undoubtedly far from being all fancy bells and whistles and no substance. Four years after I read it, I still remember it as a magnificent, intricate, urgent spectacle spanning two continents and multiple timelines, a political thriller, a (noir) crime novel, an absurdist comedy, a love story, a drama, a poetry collection, a dictionary of languages forgotten and newly invented, an epic historical novel, and even a Western (I haven’t read a Western as good as parts of Eddie for a very long time, if at all) – all of this at once.
In short, Rick Harsch’s newest novel is not only a treasure cove of language porn – it is also a narrative rollercoaster, artfully fashioned by a whimsical narrator you simply can’t help admire even when he gets intentionally annoying. In times somewhat different than the current age of Twitter tweets and rampant split-second attention deficit disorder I can easily imagine this becoming a part of the canon. Kids in secondary schools and universities all over the English-speaking (or English-learning) world could easily be pestered with this instead of Finnegan’s Wake, for example – only that in case of Eddie, they might even be interested in making it further than the cover.
The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas is NOT available on Amazon. It can, however, be ordered directly from the publisher, River Boat Books, which kindly offers two links: head here for U.S. purchases; and here for international orders (everywhere except the United States).