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Imprints Literary Supplement

The Best Books You've Never Read

Fisher's Hornpipe

By Carl Davies | Posted 10/13/1999

Fisher's Hornpipe

Todd McEwen

Out of print

In the early '80s, when literary critics were lionizing those future writers of bad magazine articles, Bret Easton Ellis and Jay McInerney, Harper & Row quietly released Todd McEwen's debut, Fisher's Hornpipe, perhaps the most savagely funny and poignant novel of its generation. Everyman William Fisher of Boston cracks his head on an iced-over Walden Pond at the novel's opening, leading to a series of events that sees the star-crossed Fisher and his constant companion Mr. Squeaky (a violin he can't play) take up arms with new drinking buddy and homeless bum Frank of Oregon to reclaim a yuppifying Quincy Market for the indigents. Think The Ginger Man crossed with A Confederacy of Dunces in the time of Ronald Reagan. How funny is it? If you can read passages such as Fisher's "Seven Stages of Drunkenness" ("IV Shouting sadness . . . VI Severe inert reverie") without laughing, you might want to check your pulse. Why this book didn't catch fire is anyone's guess; perhaps it was McEwen's offbeat writing style. More likely it's that at a time when people were mainly concerned with looking in the mirror (see Ellis, McInerney), McEwen was pissing furiously into a strong headwind. He wrote the anti-Walden for the Me Generation—exhibiting, much like his protagonist, a case of very bad timing.

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