Jonathan Baumbach's 11th book, D-Tours, was inspired by a photography display titled "Stills from Imaginary Films." It's not hard to spot the influence of this source material: Under the exterior trappings of a pulp detective novel, D-Tours is a dizzying ride through the noisy, superficial world of cinema, and it slips between scenes and stories with the effortlessness of channel surfing.
Like other fiction that might be classified as avant-pop, D-Tours rejects the conventions of story and character, delighting instead in the disconnected images of advertising and the clichés of film noir. The novel's narrator is a sort of pop-culture chameleon, changing identities like most people change socks. He is at various points an anthropologist, a hard-boiled private detective, a spy, and a B-movie producer. Likewise, his world is a loose pastiche of popular myths.
The story--or what there is of one--begins when the narrator meets a mysterious woman on a transatlantic flight, takes her to a seedy New York hotel, and there recounts the details of his life, a series of pointless anecdotes and ridiculous plots lifted from Saturday afternoon television. It's a world in which King Kong and his bride settle into domestic life in Hollywood, Elvis-impersonating aliens visit Disney World, and vampires roam the East Village.
Although the narrator spends most of the book dodging a conspiracy of neo-Nazis, psychiatrists, and homicidal lizards bent on undermining his sanity, D-Tours is essentially void of plot. Baumbach (who is also a noted film critic) chooses instead to string his story together with moments of transcendent absurdity: In one typical episode, the narrator wakes up late for an important job interview to find a small, fluffy dog glued to his back.
When Baumbach is good, D-Tours is a free flow of cultural symbolism, inviting the reader into some of the stranger corners of the American psyche. Like so many detours, however, this one often seems to be a rough road leading nowhere. As the narrator puts it, "There is no point in clarity down the road, merely the mechanism of pursuit and empty discovery."