THE OCTOROON BALL is Philip K. Dick on laughing gas.
There, that's all you need to know. Bye. What? You want more? Are
you sure? Well...okay.
THE OCTOROON BALL plays a lot of games with time, space, the
living, and the dead. It takes place, for the most part, in an
imaginary city called New Orleans, which becomes the focal point
for a vague mission carried out by a cast of multiple characters
who once actually existed, although (probably) never quite like
this. I won't tell you who they are, as their individual identities
aren't revealed until quite some time after they are introduced;
suffice to say that no one in the romp is exactly as they seem to
be. The living cavort with the dead, and who is to say who is the
New Orleans was never quite like this, yet THE OCTOROON BALL may
capture the essence of that city better than any novel of recent
memory. Richard L. Breen, Jr., the author of this wacky ride,
writes as if he attended a workshop taught by the aforementioned
Philip K. Dick, then collaborated with William Kotzwinkle and
Richard Brautigan, two writers who were perhaps overestimated
during their lives and are grossly underestimated now. Brautigan's
style --- short chapters, terse conversations, passages in which
nothing seems to happen but that are nonetheless important --- is
certainly present here, as is Kotzwinkle's gentle absurdity. The
style, however, is ultimately Breen's.
Readers of THE OCTOROON BALL are going to love or hate this book,
passionately. They may do both, either at once or by turns.
Although it is difficult to predict these things, it is easy to see
it acquiring a cult following among a segment of the
literary-minded. There is something simply enchanting about Breen's
prose that draws the reader in, even when asking oneself what the
hell is going on. Ultimately, however, THE OCTOROON BALL is worth
the read, and the reread, just to stretch the boundaries of what is
real, and what is more real.
Reviewed by Joe Hartlaub on January 22, 2011