(PS Publishing, £10.00, 154 pages, signed, limited edition paperback,
published September 2003.)
"Dempsey hated the mornings before his drugs kicked in." From
the very first sentence, you know this is going to be something special.
The protagonist, a New York cop who has recently been acquitted of murder
after shooting dead a Haitian immigrant in controversial circumstances,
begins to dig deeper into the background of the incident and finds himself
enmeshed in a world of strange Caribbean voodoo cults where nothing
and nobody are quite what they seem. The "Floater" of the title is a
speck of protein in Dempsey's eye, which impedes his vision -- or perhaps
may allow him to see what other people can't.
Shepard's sensuous prose is at its best in the tropical settings of
Life in Wartime, "Radiant Green Star", "Crocodile Rock" and "The
Jaguar Hunter"; although New York is much further north, he manages
to find the required climate for his habitual style in raves, in Santeria
ceremonies, and in two memorable scenes set in steam-filled bathrooms.
But even in other settings, the words sing from the page: we read of
"the neon script pizza joint mad cabby hip hop ambiance of millennial
rush hour Brooklyn", of "rows of apartment buildings with blank reflectionless
windows, like the disapproving faces of gigantic maiden aunts hidden
behind thick spectacles".
At one point the plot appears to be getting too clever for its own
good, as an academic expert who appears to be straight from central
casting explains to Dempsey that he is participating in a standard quest
narrative. But my expectations were blown away almost by the next sentence,
and although the story does indeed climax with Dempsey participating
in a cosmic conflict, the ending is sufficiently subversive that I actually
went to the lengths of contacting the publisher to make sure my copy
had been printed correctly.
Of course, I need not have worried. This is yet another classy production
from PS Publishing, with an introduction by Jeffrey Ford which puts
the story in the context of Shepard's other writings. Ford thinks that
this novella "will be considered one of Shepard's best". I agree. (It's
a pity that the title will cause sniggers on this side of the Atlantic
from the lavatorially minded.)
Review by Nicholas Whyte.
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