by Gerald Locklin. Event Horizon Press, PO Box 2006, Palm Springs, Ca. 92263. 350 pp. $34.95.
Book Review by Michael Basinski
Gerald Locklin writes narrative, semi-autobiographical poems of significant, practical, American insight and philosophy. As a poet, he’s published more than 60 books. However, of late, he’s branched into the realm of fiction. Now, he has published a big book, a novel, which he has titled Down and Out. The novel is fictional reportage. Locklin’s fictional persona is Jimmy Abbey, English Professor, womanizer, and down and out, out and out, drunk.
Composed of 69 chapters of various lengths, Locklin’s Down and Out is cleanly written, and his unadorned prose is consistently entertaining. With only the slightest detail to arrange and order the world in which Abbey thrives, Locklin’s realism is overwhelmingly convincing. While not being totally autobiographical, it certainly would seem that Locklin had more than some first hand knowledge of the drinking life.
Set in the 1970s, Down and Out details the escapades of Jimmy Abbey on his own turf, Sand Beach, perhaps a loosely disguised Long Beach, California. Locklin has been Professor of English for more than three decades in Long Beach, California. And also part of the novel is set during a summer in London. The gregarious Abbey is a serious drinker and womanizer.
While he is often successful as a womanizer, the womanizing seems to take second place to his hard drinking. Womanizing is simply a by-product of his thirst. And Abbey is one thirsty boy. Yet, when Abbey participates in the drinking sub-culture, he is neither bum nor pitiful slob. He is a drunk from the professional, professorial class. For this reason, Abbey is a unique creation. The professorial ranks harbor a good many drunks. Not often are they exposed in prose or in life.
While a committed boozer, Abbey is able to function at his job and maintains a more or less stable domestic situation. He drinks, seemingly, for the pure, hedonistic pleasure and enjoyment of the sauce. He is not particularly pathological. He is not particularly macho. He mixes his vodka with Tang. Tangled in the boozing sub-culture, Locklin’s Abbey is an American outsider, but he is neither a derelict or an antisocial figure like Bukowski’s Hank Chinaski nor a bravado bulging Hemingway male. Both of these authors, obviously, are models for Locklin’s prose. Abbey is neither a cynical figure nor a character ruled by dark and deep traumas. Abbey is a common alcoholic, an alcoholic Everyman. He is only slightly addicted, as are most Americans slightly addicted to something. In fact, Abbey seems more ordinary than ordinary. It is his everyday raunchy and secretive, sleaziness that makes him so believable an American character. He touches each of our own personal perversities.
While Jimmy Abbey is at various points down, he is never really counted out. He regains his footing and, albeit stumbling and staggering, carries on. He touches bottom and optimistically bounces back to land on his feet. In one sense, Abbey gets his cake and drinks it too. Down and Out is subtitled a novel for adults, although, seemingly, not because of its content. Perhaps this subtitle is part of the novel’s sarcasm. Hardly horrible or hard core, the novel portrays a naughty American adult. As any good populace fiction, movie, or TV program in our times, Down and Out concludes positively with these two words: happy ending.