A review of The Muse and the Mechanism by Josh Davis

This is a remarkable novel. It is described on the back cover as his second book but the name of this first book appears nowhere. This may thus be his first published work. It is eminently readable and assured.

Reviewed by Bob Williams

The Muse and the Mechanism
by Josh Davis
PretendGenius Press 2004, ISBN 0-9747261-7-6, $14.95, 245 pages

I have read many first or early novels that showed the influence of Jack Kerouac and I have often wondered why and if Kerouac was a direct or an indirect influence. Davis, whose second book it is that we are considering, mentions Kerouac so we may safely conclude that the influence is here direct.

I bring this up because I always regarded Kerouac as a dull writer and most of those who labored under his influence seldom were much better. But Davis is a happy exception. He is not afraid of writing well and of using narrative strategies that employ artifice and sometimes art, methods that Kerouac rejected. There is the same progression of events that seems artless and the entrances and exits of characters that are often mere names and impinge on the reader’s consciousness solely by means of persistence.

Charlie is a young writer and student. In the course of his story he will have his first book published, rid himself of one woman and fail in his attempts to secure two others. Along the way, we will watch his friends drink, fight, smoke innumerable cigarettes and less licit material. It’s a grubby life and is led mostly in the confines of a house that Charlie shares with James, Stephen and Lola. James is a fall-down drunk in the opening scene and imprints the outline of his body in the ceiling of Charlie’s room as a result of one of his falls. This outline of the fallen man recurs throughout the novel. Its meaning is never clear but its power is significant and it is one of the motives that tie the book together despite the sprawl that results from the Kerouac influence.

Lola is the young woman who lives with Charlie. For Charlie this is a progressive disaster as he finds himself less and less in sympathy with her and torn with the difficulties of making a reasonably painless break from her. Her pursuit of him overlaps his pursuit of Grace, a young woman of great loveliness and what Charlie regards as serendipitous compatibility. That he deludes himself in this regard is proved by her rejection of him that takes the form of rather mean-minded evasions and self-centeredness. His love for Grace generates a series of letters, poetic insights and even a poem that adds enormously to the sum of his experience and makes the reader believe in him as a writer.

His shorter, less intense but equally unsuccessful pursuit of Cassandra leaves him in isolation and he imagines at the end the sense of liberation that this gives him.

Structurally Davis lays his story out in broad chunks that relate to various locations: the apartment building where Charlie lives, his mother’s house that he house-sits while she and his step-father vacation and Tim’s mother’s house that Tim house-sits under much the same conditions. Davis provides the reader with no advance information and Ethan, Charlie’s friend has been moving about in the novel for a long time before we learn that he is a painter.

There is a wry humor in Davis that breaks out like strikes of lightning. Of the drunken James and his troubled love affair, Charlie observes: “She thinks she is playing as many games with him as he is with her. But James always seems to win. He always outsmarts her. She doesn’t realize that the only chance she’s got is to outlast his liver.”

This is a remarkable novel. It is described on the back cover as his second book but the name of this first book appears nowhere. This may thus be his first published work. It is eminently readable and assured. I recommend it for its own sake and as earnest of what so good a writer must produce in the future.

For more information visit: Muse

About the Reviewer: Bob Williams is retired and lives in a small town with his wife, dogs and a cat. He has been collecting books all his life, and has done freelance writing, mostly on classical music. His principal interests are James Joyce, Jane Austen and Homer. His book Joyce Country, a guide to persons and places, can be accessed at: http://www.grand-teton.com/service/Persons_Places