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The American dream reveals itself to be a Lovecraftian nightmare in Mamatas's audacious first novel, set in the early 1960s, which goes on the road with Kerouac, Cassaday and Cthulhu. Jack Kerouac is in California when he receives cryptic letters from soulmate and muse Neal Cassaday, whose hallucinatory ramblings evoke "the Dark Dreamer" (aka Cthulhu), the Lovecraftian deity of cosmic entropy whom Jack blames for the era's stultifying forces of conformity, commercialism and complacency. After Jack rescues Neal from his new life as a gas station owner in Nevada, the two reverse the steps of their earlier westward trek, fighting skirmishes with "the Cult of Utter Normalcy" that serves the god, en route to a climactic showdown in New York City. The book has no more plot than Kerouac's On the Road, but the author makes Jack and Neal's surreal adventures in middle America seem the perfect expression of Lovecraft's mind-blasting horrors. He gives quaint cameos to Allen Ginsburg as a sewer-trolling prophet and William S. Burroughs as a god-swatting exterminator extraordinaire. He also manages a credible pastiche of Kerouac's visionary prose, as in this description of Manhattan: "The heart of the world, concrete and fleshy, green money pouring in and out from every corner of earth through arteries of commerce and culture, all choked up and poisoned with the madness of dead gods' dreams." Though Lovecraft reduxes are common in horror, few show the wit and energy of this original effort.
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In this tour de force, which is Mamatas' first novel, the Beats meet the elder gods of H. P. Lovecraft, and a harrowing time is had by all. It's the early sixties, and Jack Kerouac is hiding from his public in Big Sur, enjoying the company of a Hindu deity in the form of a redhead he calls Marie and waiting for word from Neal Cassady, his and many another Beat's charismatic hero. Word he gets, including some babbling on about the Old Ones rising out of the Pacific and sweeping across America. That sets Jack off in search of Neal and, with Neal and eventually Bill Burroughs, on a cross-country jaunt just ahead, or behind, the advancing dark tide of the Old Ones. Destination: Mannahatta, where the since-separated Jack and Neal have a showdown--with each other! Mamatas virtuosically parodies Kerouac's pell-mell On the Road style, but Burroughs' Naked Lunch and Exterminator, minus the outre sex, are more obvious templates for this wild, weird, woolly romp. Ray Olson
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