|Victor Gischler: The Pistol Poets|
Delacorte Press (Hardcover), ISBN 0-385-33724-8
Stories of identity theft fill the airwaves with frightening regularity these days. The Pistol Poets, Victor Gischler's second novel, puts a different spin on this modern phenomenon. He fills the story with a combination of offbeat characters so flawed, alienated and entrapped in their own anti-social behavior that at first glance one can't help but conjure up images of long forgotten literary noire. It soon becomes apparent, however, that Gischler intends to lead his readers through an over-the-top, darkly humorous romp of a story, and he succeeds in the attempt all the while poking fun at the academia in which he works and the genre in which he writes.
Two black teens, drug runners for the local drug czar, pick a robbery victim at random. The encounter goes wrong and they stab the victim, another young black teen, to death. Rifling through his clothes, the culprits find a letter from Eastern Oklahoma University inviting the victim to enroll and accept a job as a graduate assistant in the school's tutoring lab. Harold Jenks, one of the culprits, decides to get out of the area by stealing the victim's identity and taking his place at the college. He packs his belongings, straps a pistol to the small of his back, grabs a duffle bag full of the drug czar's merchandise and heads for Fumbee, Oklahoma. There he bamboozles the very politically correct administrators and finds himself entrenched in the school's English department. However, old habits die hard, and when Jenks attempts to make some money on the side by selling the drugs in his possession, his troubles begin.
Visiting Professor of English Jay Morgan dreads his poetry classes. The formerly itinerant poet, now cynical, burned out and suffering from a lack of creative inspiration, only goes through the motions of teaching. Unfortunately for him, a liaison with one of his female students ends in tragedy. The student turns up in his bed dead from an overdose of drugs. The girl's parents hire a thuggish private eye who zeros in on both Morgan and the possible existence of the drug cache.
When drug czar Red Zach enters the scene in search of Jenks and the recovery of his merchandise, the cat and mouse games commence. A Keystone Cops type chase begins in Oklahoma and continues all the way to a fishing dock in Galveston, Texas. Morgan runs for his life while fretting over the whereabouts of Jenks. Morgan's future job possibilities hinge on locating Jenks, whom the school president wishes to feature at the annual on campus poetry reading. (After all, every college needs to contribute to cultural diversity.)
Gischler writes with an almost unnerving wit, a sprinkling of inside jokes, and an irreverent attitude toward several generally accepted sacred cows. Thin-skinned and faint of heart readers need not bother. For everyone else, an offbeat treat awaits.
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