PINBALL WIZARD — a novella by Michael Meloan

Sunday, November 6, 2022

“Daylight Savings and Loan” filed its annual bankruptcy papers this weekend. “Fall back an hour.” Supposedly a rainstorm is on its way from Northern California to celebrate the shift to the sky going dark at 5 p.m. This is a bit early in the rainy season in Southern California to get a big storm, but this could mean that November is taking the place of December last year, after which things went dry and the reservoir levels began to get drastically low. Just knowing that rain is on the way put me in the mood to read something both entertaining and well written. I’ve heard that my colleague Charles Webb had a novel published by Red Hen a few months ago, but I’ve been too busy with various projects to go online and order a copy.

Fortunately, my mailbox contained a surprise a week or so ago: a novella (in a bilingual edition of German and English!) by Michael Meloan that is one of the most satisfying reading experiences I’ve had in recent years, in part because it handles a famous writer (Charles Bukowski) being one of its major characters with nonchalant deftness. It’s hard to classify Meloan’s slightly picaresque story, which is one of the things that makes it such a pleasure to read. Can a portion of it be read as a satire of Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49? Meloan’s HighFrontier is certainly more believable as a send-up of Pentagon outsourcing. Of course, maybe I need to revisit the purlieu of Yoyodyne before passing judgement! It’s been a dozen years since I’ve been on their premises (in the full sense of that word), and maybe I’m a little too enchanted with Meloan’s protagonist, Ralph Hargraves, the first computer programmer narrator that I’ve ever found complex enough to care about his fate. In any case, Meloan has a gift for writing an unapologetically masculine prose that isn’t worried about how well it looks in the mirror. It’s flavorful without being exotic, and it doesn’t hurt that he has a fine ear for dialogue. He also keeps the backdrop of specific neighborhoods and locales in Los Angeles well in focus as the characters bicker, quarrel, and placate one another. My only quibble is that he spells “Marina del Rey” with a capital “D.” I suppose I could go through it with a felt tip pen and correct it myself when I read it a second time, which unlike most books I pick up I will most certainly do at some point in the near future.

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