June 29, 1987 12:00 PM

by Tim Sandlin

Kelly Palamino, a professional dishwasher, is the narrator of this happily absurd first novel. He lives in Jackson Hole, Wyo. and is separated from a woman who won’t admit to being his wife—though he’s not entirely sure that a drug-induced ceremony, performed by “Father Funk, dressed like a tourist on Maui,” is binding. He lives with his cat, Alice, hears voices in running water and sees his therapist, Lizbeth, on Wednesdays. She asks him what it means that he hears the sprinkling system telling him to chain-saw his mother. “It doesn’t mean any more than the toilet telling me to eat fish or my Ezra Pound-quoting Water Pik,” Kelly thinks. But, to appease Lizbeth, he stares at his feet and says,” I suppose it means I have some sort of repressed feelings toward my mother.” One day Kelly watches a bride-to-be punt a football over the rectory seconds before she walks down the aisle. He is smitten, crashes her reception at the Americana Inn Gold Room and asks her to run away with him. He leaves alone—but imbued with purpose. “All my life I’ve bounced with whatever wave hit me,” he says. “…I’m almost 30 and I’ve never made a decision…. If I give up, I’ll be a drunken dishwasher…and then I’ll be dead.” Kelly stalks the new bride, Colette. In his guilelessly antic pursuit, he crumples in her yard after an unsuccessful attempt at carrying her off in his hang glider. Sometimes Colette reciprocates his love; sometimes she rebuffs him with a right hook. Palamino’s engagingly idiosyncratic voice falls somewhere between On the Road and Bright Lights, Big City. He’s the Lone Ranger in love, riding out the rough patches on a Thorazine habit. At a low point Kelly wonders if he can hold his “brain and body together long enough to write a good book, find a good woman, accomplish something that makes this manic bull—worth the trouble.” With the help of Sandlin, an ex-pizza maker and elk skinner, Kelly sails through the first test anyway. (Holt, $16.95)

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