IF I WERE in the world of theater, I'd reckon on hearing a lot of Padgett Powell readings in my future. The beloved Southern-fried writer has a new novel, You & Me, that's ripe with juicy, drunken, rambling revelations—bits so good, they'll be dripping from earnest theater kids' mouths at audition readings for as long as warm bodies are needed to populate the ranks of A Chorus Line.
While much has been made of You & Me's parody of Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot, it's first and foremost Powell's wholly distinctive voice that grabs you by the ear and sets you to laughing at its two main characters. Set in a limbo land somewhere between Bakersfield, California, and Jacksonville, Florida, two unnamed codgers are indistinguishable in their while-aways, while they drink cheap booze and jaw away at each other on a humid porch. It's not unlike hanging out with your grandpa and his golfing buddy over the course of a summer—if those old gaffers happened to be the Southern goth William Faulkner and the homespun Jimmy Stewart starring in a Coen Brothers film. Their conversation flits from aside to tangential story, threading in and out and weaving reoccurring themes together, all of which makes a crazy sort of blackout sense. It's the sort of surreal experience that Powell excels at (see: his 2009 novel The Interrogative Mood, entirely made up of questions to the reader). And its effects are entirely cumulative, building layers of clever turns of phrase and little nuggets of longing and regret.
You & Me's moseying conversation might be familiar to Powell fans, as his work has gotten more surreal over the years. From a 2006 interview in The Believer, where he talks about his story "Manifesto": "It's a dialogue between two men who appear to be one man, for the convenience of smooth flux. That is one of the entertaining things about it, to me—a dialogue that is a monologue." You & Me operates in the same vein, as the two old coots banter back and forth, while their wordplay-chockablock conversation operates like voices in a person's head, tipsily mulling over the listlessness of life, the loss of a beloved dog, the longing for children, abject horniness, and the prevalence of sugar in the global diet. It's a delightful little book, that might be right at home being read in palate-cleansing snatches between a beer and a shot on a hot August night at your local dive.