By Ken Pisani
If you lost an appendage to a careless driver, would you take the high road and advice of those who say look on the bright side and make lemonade out of lemons? Hm, if you nodded yes. The road to acceptance and adaptation is usually a long one crowded with plenty of anger, self-pity, and recrimination, until maybe a person finds solace in reconciliation.
And this essentially is the path traveled by Aaron in Ken Pisani’s very good, very funny, and often very dark comedy. The plot is Aaron’s journey; the delights are the oddball characters and situations he encounters along the way, among them his family, childhood acquaintances, people he encounters, including a little boy with cancer and a radio science commentator whose voice and quirkiness he falls in love with. This is not even to mention his attempts at adapting to the limitations of life with one arm, his disturbing indulgence in drugs and booze, and his job as a fish counter, the goal of which is to preserve a near extinct resident of the Wabash River, the Acipenser pseudoboscis, a prehistoric throwback doomed by having to negotiate a dam in order to mate, and the alligator, Ali, in the bathtub.
The highpoint of the novel and a turning point for Aaron comes when he lands in the hospital, the victim of his own stupidity; during a drunken night with his layabout brother-in-law, he has the stump of his arm tattooed, which leads to a serve infection. In the hospital, he meets the little boy, Jimmy, with cancer. Jimmy changes Aaron’s life in some pretty hilarious ways and sets the stage for an uplifting, somewhat tearily happy conclusion to a story and life that might otherwise have had a grim end.
Pisani writes with both a good ear for dialogue and a terrific sense of comedic timing. Some passages will send you into loud fits of laughter. All in all, a good first novel in its own right and particularly good if you’re down and need a pick me up. w/c