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Pomona Queen [Hardcover]

Kem Nunn
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

April 1992
Lost in a barrio hocking his wares, Rainbow Air Purifier salesman Earl Dean crosses the doorstep of Dan Brown, a man intent on avenging the death of his brother, Buddy. By the author of Tapping the Source.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

Pomona, Calif., is the setting for Nunn's remarkable exploration of the seedier side of his native state. (Apr.) *CHILDREN'S BOOKS
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Kirkus Reviews

A vacuum-cleaner salesman becomes entangled in a homicidal biker's quest to avenge his brother's murder: Nunn's death-haunted third novel (after Tapping the Source, 1984; Unassigned Territory, 1987) is as much about southern California's spacious past as its druggy, tacky present. After a few weeks on the job, 40-ish Earl Dean has become one of the best salesmen in town (Pomona, south of Los Angeles); the ``aging hipster'' is putting together the money to claim his inheritance and oust his stepfather from the land first settled by his great-grandfather, an orange grower. But bad luck brings Dean to the house of Dan Brown, ``full-blown white trash,'' who once killed a cop and is now getting seriously drunk guarding the corpse of his brother Buddy until he learns who killed him. This opening segment is magnificent black comedy, as Dean tries to pacify the unpredictable biker (``the man could go off''). Then word arrives that Buddy was stabbed by a wild woman with blond dreadlocks, leader of a band called Pomona Queen, and Dean, a great believer in secret signs, has a flash: The same name was used for the artwork on his great-grandfather's packing crates. The rest of the novel alternates between the buildup to a climactic confrontation with the alleged killer at a mall concert, and Dean's thoughts as he rides around town, the prisoner of Dan and his henchmen--for Dean, high as a kite but also badly shaken after various escape attempts, keeps seeing ``the pale grid of the dead'': especially his great- grandfather, shot mysteriously as Pomona's Chinatown was torched, and his one true love, Rayann, dying insane after too many bad trips. Much of the suspense ebbs away (despite a plot twist involving the killer's identity) as Nunn sifts through the layers of Dean's karma, and as Pomona's past rolls in like fog; still, Nunn remains an exciting writer, working close to the edge. -- Copyright ©1992, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved.

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Most helpful customer reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars An uneven ride through the night Nov. 10 2003
Format:Paperback
No one - with the possible exception of Robert Stone - does aging hipsters living on the edge better than Kem Nunn (his "Dogs of Winter" is excellent). And there are no shortage of these outlaws in "Pomona Queen." Still, I found the novel to be a disappointment. At its best, there is an Alice-in-the-Valley weirdness to "Pomona Queen" that works well. In the novel's opening pages middle aged vacuum cleaner salesman Earl (Johnny Magic) Dean, trying once again to get a grip on survival, accidently steps back into his past, encountering biker and thug Dan Brown, who is mourning (sort of) the murder of his brother - who happens to be on ice in Dan's living room. Actually, it's more about revenge, though it's hard to tell, since lines of motivation converge and separate, often in the same conversation. But that's cool, since following Dan's reasoning is kind of like an amusement park ride through Hell.
More problematic however, is Earl's continuing reveries and/or meditations on the history of Pomona. A lot less of local history would of served Nunn well. No doubt Nunn intended to provide this as texturing. All those bones and decay and betrayal from Pomona's history must mean Something, even if it's Nothing, though Earl sort of fancies himself as a "theologian of hope." But from a storytelling point of view, given the sheer number of pages devoted to what is in effect a slight-of-hand literary device, the novel gets bogged down with some truly unnecessary information. In this case, a leaner novel would of made for a much meaner one. Nevertheless, there are a number of very fine (and funny) moments in the novel, making "Pomona Queen" worth a look for those interested in the portrayals of hipsters at the end of the rainbow. That said, it will be a cut & paste effort, which is always frustrating, since one realizes that a novel's promise was somehow missed.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  7 reviews
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Underrated Masterpiece about the Dream Journey July 16 2005
By M. JEFFREY MCMAHON - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I was disappointed that the other reviewers weren't connecting this novel to its spiritual cousins: Cormac McCarthy's novel Blood Meredian and David Lynch's film Mulholland Dr. I mention Blood Meredian because Pomona Queen deals with the connection between violence and empire-building, specifically the blood that was shed during the creation of Pomona. Nunn's novel deals with a lot of violence and bloodshed, specifically of Earl Dean's forebears, that surrounds the history of Pomona's making. In that context we go into the nightmare world of Earl Dean, a vacuum cleaner salesman who goes to one house too many to sell his wares. His final house is owned by a drug-soaked, violent Dan Brown who kidnaps Earl Dean to conduct an order of business so bizarre you feel like you're entering a nightmare. Indeed, the nightmarish quality, punctuated by grotesque humor, evokes the dream journey, complete with perdition and the longing for redemption, which has similar components that we see in Mulholland Dr. In both the film and Pomona Queen, the dream journey is a sort of wish-fulfillment fantasy and in both the dream journey is never arbitrary or weird for weird's sake. There is a psychological realism that makes the events seem necessary and logical.

Earl Dean, a down and out vacuum salesman who's been duped by his stepfather and the world in general is looking for redemption, courage, and belonging. You'll have to read this harrowing, often bleakly funny novel to see if he finds them.
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A tasty yarn pulled out of a real Southern Calif. backyard April 22 1998
By Kevin Samson - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
A yarn pulled out of a Los Angeles backyard, Pomona Queen captures the people and places of its battered setting. There's more truth to this hilarious romp and rumble than its fictional label would have you believe. A vacum cleaner salesman, with a personal stake in old Pomo, is kidnapped by one of the town's infamous hoods. So begins a saga of surprises in the once-beautiful valley landscape as one twist turns into another leads to the final showdown at The Alibi Club, a real tavern you wouldn't want to visit after dark.The author has done his homework. His love-hate feeling for this ravaged locale squeezes a tart, juicy tale that will have you laughing, wincing and crying amid a setting that was once rich with sweet orange groves. A keeper. This guy can write.
6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars An uneven ride through the night Nov. 10 2003
By S. Harris - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
No one - with the possible exception of Robert Stone - does aging hipsters living on the edge better than Kem Nunn (his "Dogs of Winter" is excellent). And there are no shortage of these outlaws in "Pomona Queen." Still, I found the novel to be a disappointment. At its best, there is an Alice-in-the-Valley weirdness to "Pomona Queen" that works well. In the novel's opening pages middle aged vacuum cleaner salesman Earl (Johnny Magic) Dean, trying once again to get a grip on survival, accidently steps back into his past, encountering biker and thug Dan Brown, who is mourning (sort of) the murder of his brother - who happens to be on ice in Dan's living room. Actually, it's more about revenge, though it's hard to tell, since lines of motivation converge and separate, often in the same conversation. But that's cool, since following Dan's reasoning is kind of like an amusement park ride through Hell.
More problematic however, is Earl's continuing reveries and/or meditations on the history of Pomona. A lot less of local history would of served Nunn well. No doubt Nunn intended to provide this as texturing. All those bones and decay and betrayal from Pomona's history must mean Something, even if it's Nothing, though Earl sort of fancies himself as a "theologian of hope." But from a storytelling point of view, given the sheer number of pages devoted to what is in effect a slight-of-hand literary device, the novel gets bogged down with some truly unnecessary information. In this case, a leaner novel would of made for a much meaner one. Nevertheless, there are a number of very fine (and funny) moments in the novel, making "Pomona Queen" worth a look for those interested in the portrayals of hipsters at the end of the rainbow. That said, it will be a cut & paste effort, which is always frustrating, since one realizes that a novel's promise was somehow missed.
4.0 out of 5 stars Buds, Bogarts and Battery Feb. 17 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Fly down to Mexico, look out the window, southern Cal looks like a river of mustard gas. Maybe this is why Kem Nunn has a protagonist in Pomona Queen who sells "air purifiers", vacuum cleaners that operate on an air-exchange principle. So somewhere in here lies a metaphor that explores the poisoned society of a white trash culture strung out on Buds, Bogarts and battery.
The P.O.V. is supplied by a wounded love culture graduate called Earl Dean, once known as "Johnny Magic" when he was a hippy band vocalist with a redhead fox violinist as a girlfriend. But the girlfriend is now dead, Dean is now struggling to regain his family orchard by hustling "Cyclone" purifiers, and the crack cocaine consciousness of speed metal has replaced the free love delusion of country rock.
And who is his nemisis? The bad ass substance abuser Danny Brown, a cop killer who leads a trio of bikers...altho' the only instruments they play are knives, guns and bottles. Check out some of the cast: "Ardath", "The Stench", "Fall Down Debbie", "Engineer Bill", "The Pomona Queen", the latter variously representing Dean's lost love, lost land, and nearly his lost life.
"The Pomona Queen" is initially a dark-haired vixen on a peach crate label, all that remains of Dean's lost heritage. "The two (label and girl) existed for him in some complex arrangement of inner harmonies, hieroglyphs in an existential code." Or, more viscerally: "She was the Mona Lisa of the Pomona Valley."
Contrast this against that beastial clown, Danny Brown: "He was like the rat, adaptable, clever, impossible to eradicate." Nunn's characterization of this quintessential of all contemporary outlaws, the American biker, is brilliant. Homicidal, profane, an architect of violence who is, after all, a "family" man.
How does Dean become a hostage in this psycho fantasy? Pure chance. He's called to the biker house by Diana, the nubile flower selling daughter, who wants the free gift given to the prospective customers of the Cyclone, to find the naked body of Buddy -- Dan's brother -- dead "on ice" in a red Coca Cola cooler. Danny recognizes Dean as "Johnny Magic", decides that Magic will sing over his murdered brother's grave...and Danny doesn't take "no" for an answer.
Who killed Buddy? Therein lies the story, the plot, the action. There are a number of very funny incidents as Dean tries to escape this nightmare, yet finds himself rejoining the madness due to some quasi-conscious rationale linked to his sense of failure and the desire to succeed. The writing is often outstanding in its grasp of idiom and the the dramatization of the absurd circumstances that life sometimes presents. Perhaps Nunn sidebars a little too often into flashbacks, local history, character bios and the like, but you can just glissando over these chunks if the lead gets too dense on the page. Mind you, the "history" is essential to the theme, and the novel would just be another adventure in the criminal history of mankind without it.
If you think Jane Austen and Margaret Atwood are good writers, forget this one. The only poetry here is the poetry of scatology, the only manners the manners of violence.
5.0 out of 5 stars brilliant dark mystery mixed with knife-edged humor Jan. 5 1997
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Kem Nunn shows originality and genius in this portrait of the dark side of Southern California, seen through the eyes of a door-to-door salesman, who gets tangled up with renegade bikers in the midst of a violent feud. The almost surreal setting comes alive, and the characters are unforgettable, but you'll be glad they don't live next door. It's about time Nunn came out with another masterpiece
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