Review of The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas by Rick Harsch

If this book had been published in 1960, we would all know about it by now. “Manifold Destiny” would be a catch-phrase justification for our monstropolis steamroller of a country.

Combining an astonishing range of styles, a magisterial voice, operatic reverence, elegant tone variance, and predominantly satirical, cynical, jaded, darkly comic, acerbic, and comedic characters, this tome draws fair comparisons with David Foster child Wallace.

Composed of shifting viewpoints interwoven with parallel narratives – a rough outline of the riverine vortices you will encounter might look like this:

Hector Robitaille versus Old Ephraim. Approximately 1840 on the American frontier.
Donnie & Drake in Brussels and stateside, their gambols and gambles. 8 generations removed from Hector’s timeline.
Garvin/ Gravel/ Eddie – 1 generation behind the teen pseudo-protags.
Setif’s imperative feminine perspective in a male-dominated society.
Nordgaard’s Vietnam tale within a tale, contemporaneous, but drilling through multiple narratives.
Author’s asides – breaking the 4th wall.

Harsch’s multi-layered language and surgical word choices will constantly outwit you. The prose is peppered with puns and alive with alliteration. This is a no-holds-bard, creme de la crop, onomatopoeic, virtuosic performance. There is no parody or imitation, no reliance on cliche or cheap gimmicks, except perhaps for a single exception in the loving homages to Rabelais in the form of whimsical lists. Not a tired phrase in sight, no strained eloquence, but only practical, improvisational riffing, which in its accumulated convolutions and fluttering depths assumes layers of lyrical immanence.

You get intertextual arrangements, traditional Western songs, and bawdy ramblings, symphonic narration, dreamlike languor, and precise observations, along with sentences as courageous as landslides, and the convincing plot is always marching into vast horizons of meaning, leaving you parched on the precipice of awe.

Not to mention the meta-fictional moments, some of the most creative and elaborate strings of curses I’ve ever encountered, a breadth of erudition to place this book in the first class of American literature, and a lyrical fluency on par with Lowry’s Under the Volcano. Plus, as if that isn’t enough, character descriptions so jaw-dropping, they actually stand out in the constant poetic fireworks display.

Luckily, amid the disenchantment, slaughter and rapine, there is loving humor and spiteful candor. The cruelty of our human frailty leaves little room for solace in the relentlessly advancing, increasingly heartless universe.

Do you like literary puzzle of the level of Infinite Jest’s subliminal world building, but more approachable, horripilating narration, and characters with a wider scope and relation to society? This novel coordinates its intricate, complex, dense, Ivy League prose, infusing it with luscious imagery, lascivious charm, and wry, pithy one-liners and palindromes, luxuriant and serpentine descriptions, compounding philosophies, and atmosphere to stagger the imagination and ensorcel the senses. It is a hallucinogenic tour de force that reinvents language, with inspiring, spiraling irreverence, that encapsulates the bleak aura of our shameful and shameless history, but isn’t devoid of compassion. Beware the seamlessly blent portmanteau words and regional dialect. They require a double-take, but are appreciated upon reflection. It’s a memorable ride, so fast and loose and smooth you’ll feel lashed and used and moved.

Pay particular attention to:
Drake and Donnie’s encounter with Setif’s ex’s gang resulting in a display worthy of their ancestors.

Hector’s encounter with the snake versus Eddie’s encounter with the snake, and what each reveals about the characters.

How the omniscient narrator skip-traces through each generation.

How Hector’s Odyssey is reminiscent of Crusoe’s solo survival. It is a declarative master class on how to describe character interactions with their environment

Don’t miss Easter eggs in the chapter titles and puns in the character names.

Prepare for tall tales, a grizzly affair or two, a very scary midget, multi-generational bloodthirsty feuds, disillusioned gunslingers and rapacious claim-jumpers, landmines and their accompanying human potpourri, and literary devices juggled like a circus performer adding bowling pins until you lose count.

This is Gold Rush country, even in the modern age, full of slurs, slants & baggy pants, home of the free built upon the graves of the braves. What is the expense of our freedoms? What is the cost of its preservation? “Empires carry the seeds of their own destruction.” The mythic force of human desire does not counteract our animalistic nature. Our ancestors are inescapable, no matter how estranged we think we are.

What’s left is clarity and consistent invention, the force of a great raconteur, historical and microcosmic details, bravado, and bold humor around every turn. Some sentences are polished to the atomic level and others erupt like a widening whirlpool of malleable lava.

Desolate and teeming, this book discusses how hardship and struggle echo through time and across landscapes, touches families and dissolve loves. Inhabiting a skewed and tilted reality, it is about fathership above all – of children, of a name, of a nation, of a legend, of a disaster, and of a godless destiny. The steel-girt profunditties, the growling, prowling, scowling, howling, simply lovely writing, the phantasmagloric rabblearousing, un-pandering, double, no triple, entendre-ing, and tongue-in-cheek full-of-our-babies-merry-go-round-on-fire harsch dose of Reality qualify The Manifold Destiny of Eddie Vegas as a bonified masterpiece.

Now to end with a handful of my favorite quotes from the book:

“The land shapes a man’s destiny, however appallingly insignificant.”

“A full fed feller with a full-fledged fire.”

“Solitude maketh of man many an oddity.”

“You just aren’t self-aware enough to be aware of other selves.”

“My decision is flannel.”

“The desert tries to impress it absences on you, but it is full, dry but ripe.”

“On bad days I am at least four decades shabbier than Eastern Europe.”

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