When a chance encounter brings the inventor of instant powdered booze and the designer of a pedal-powered car together at the opening of David Ohle's third novel, their prospects for entanglement seem slim. Both are traveling to Witchy Toe, where they'll each spend five years with a new mate randomly selected by the government. But American dictator Reverend Herman Hooker's forced relocation program suddenly makes sense—to Jacob Balls, at least—when the couple discover they'll be sharing a trailer and a bed. Wary of the parasitic infections ravaging the nation, Mildred Vink won't even grant her new husband a kiss...at least before her first shot of euphoria-inducing willywhack.
Much as it reads like first-rate, 21st-century bizarro fare, The Pisstown Chaos is actually the latest installment in a story cycle dating to Ohle's equally fucked-up 1972 debut, Motorman. "I certainly didn't grow up with the intention of spending most of my adult life in this insane world I've created," he says. Though he's taught at the University of Kansas since 1984, the author retains a trace of New Orleans in his voice, and in his sense of humor.
During the 20th century, being decades ahead of his time was pretty much the only reward he got. Despite his longstanding friendship with fellow Lawrencian William Burroughs, Ohle's genius for generating horrifically hilarious situations went largely unnoticed until a few years ago, when the author, now in his 60s, started connecting with a wider audience—most of it under 30. One reason may be his knack for crafting alternate realities that resonate all too well with our own. After all, even 10 years ago, Jacob Balls's biggest come-on line—"In a few years, I'll be rich; I'll have thousands"—would have seemed utterly ridiculous.
Rod Smith is a Minneapolis writer and DJ and an instructor in media and criticism.