THE GREAT AMERICAN SUCTION is a dark, surreal, deadpan-comic novel about a reformed glue huffer who copes with the emerging mysteries of his life—a backwoods conspiracy against him, a woman impersonating his ex-wife—by undertaking a project as epic as it is absurd: the creation of a thirty-foot monument, a secular shrine of sorts, made entirely of stacked trash.
Authority Shaker has somehow, against all expectations, survived into his mid-thirties. He has set aside the early debauchery of his youth and now maintains a modest existence mowing lawns in rural Ohio. Shaker’s tranquility is soon punctured when he is persecuted by mysterious forces that seem to be acting in retribution for long-forgotten sins Shaker committed somewhere in his hazy, drug-clouded past. The provocations start small: Someone breaks into his house and rearranges his furniture. His dishes get washed, his apartment cleaned.
As the passive-aggressive harassment escalates, Shaker stumbles onto a shadowy underground network of bumpkin criminality, on the cusp of which is his schizophrenic cousin, Darb, who is trying to manufacture a new street drug with a toxin extracted from puffer fish. Shaker is drawn into Darb’s troubled family life and when both of their houses are immolated under suspicious circumstances, the cousins attempt to cope with the disaster in a way that is both foolish and oddly enigmatic: by building competing garbage monuments from the refuse of other peoples’ lives. Their kinship turns to rivalry. Jealousy, paranoia, and sabotage ensue.
Complicating matters further, Shaker takes up residence with a nameless woman who ekes out a living impersonating Shaker’s ex-wife (who went on to become an infamous musician/performance artist/national punch line after she fled Ohio). Shaker’s own home life becomes more than a little troubled. His monument begins to attract a cult of silent homeless men. He gains a doppelganger of his own when a mop-haired mute appears on the doorstep and ingratiates his way into the woman’s house. And then there is the matter of Shaker’s random blackouts and amnesias, which may be the root of the conspiracy against him and the very thing he is trying to buttress himself against with his dubious stack of trash.
The novel is swift, off-kilter, gleefully overstuffed yet intricately connected. A big swirling churn of American Absurd.