Salvage King, Ya!:
A Herky-Jerky Picaresque

by Mark Jarman,
256 pages,
ISBN: 1895636132

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First Novels - 33-year-olds & Info-Endtime
by Eva Tihanyi

Mark Jarman's Salvage King, Ya! (Anvil Press, 284 pages, $16.95 paper) is exactly what its subtitle promises: A Herky-Jerky Picaresque. It is episodic and rambling, a loosely structured adventure told with realistic detail but from the viewpoint of a narrator who romanticizes himself, his life, and everyone around him.

The narrator is a semi-pro hockey player who also owns a junkyard; by his own admission he is "a Canadian jock" and "a King of Junk". He describes himself as "a plain man", suffering from "imperceptible deteriorations of spirit", worrying often about whether he's "on the wrong road". At thirty-three, he finds himself caught in a triangle of women: his ex-wife Kathy; his fiancée, referred to as the Intended; and his mistress, identified only as Waitress X. He drinks too much, lives recklessly; his career is careening downhill and so are his relationships, all of which he's trying to "salvage".

Mark Jarman, a five-time Journey Prize nominee and author of the story collection Dancing Nightly in the Tavern, has created a true contemporary picaresque. The narrator, appropriately irreverent and roguish, flies through life by the seat of his pants, surviving more by his wit and his luck than his industry. He's a tough-talking guy, not entirely without self-awareness or insight, but with a flippant cleverness and relentless self-absorption that eventually become tiresome.

The book does have an undeniable energy. However, its paragraphs, which wind and rush like a wild river, verge on the excessive: "Things have goofed up on me. I drive and I pull in from the Interstate into hamburger midnights, main streets of Montana watching out for the black & whites, the ghosts, the radar and antennae and satellites over the land of the free and the dead, the shifting eyes and crewcuts and legs sweating on the seats of genuine Corinthian leather. We head down to the big Heliz Hotel, catch the latest reincarnation of say Hank Snow or Elmore James on an over-driven Hamer lead guitar, a bottleneck slide, open D tuning, hoppy New Zealand beer on special. Soon come we're sloppy drunk at the blues club, scarfing chicken wings and carrots and angels on horseback."


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