Joseph Edwin Haeger reviews This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far by Homeless. (ExPat Press)
There are moments in This Hasn’t Been a Very Magical Journey So Far that reminded me of other things, like Wristcutters: A Love Story; Girl, Interrupted; Everything Is Illuminated; to name a few. But none of them felt like a perfect encapsulation of this new Homeless novel. He’s taking elements from classic moments in these psychological and sometime surreal works and breeding their DNA into his own book. When I got down to it, the best blurb-y description I came up with was that this book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on crack.
There are two concurrent storylines happening, and they’re fully dependent on one another. One is something we’ve seen many times, while the latter is so absurd I think it would be impossible to navigate on its own. We’re left with this balancing act for a narrative that shouldn’t work, but because of its sheer charm, it does.
The book starts out with a character named Hank Williams breaking out of a psych ward with the help of a cat named Sid. This cat has a magical umbrella and a beat-up shit-heap of a van named Nancy. He takes Hank under his wing and they drive into the desert in search of … something. In the beginning, Sid asks Hank where he wants to go, and the response is whether a dead person can be a destination, to which Sid replies, “Yeah, I guess.” And thus begins their travels through an insane landscape of talking animals, lewd sexual encounters, and bouts of extreme violence. Intercut with these travel scenes are moments of Hank Williams meeting the love of his life, Patsy Cline, in the psych ward.
This book is The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on crack.
The “real-life” section is the kind of story we’ve seen before, but having it complement the surreal moments in the book elevates it past a derivative perspective. Homeless has struck a balance between the two, keeping me engaged and curious for what was around the corner. It’s no secret the storyline with a talking cat is some sort of alternate consciousness Hank is experiencing after losing Patsy. Early on, while the two patients fall in love, they talk about how they want a love as great as Sid and Nancy, but without the murder. It’s no accident that the cat and his van share these names. Or that Patsy said she’d be Hank’s figurative umbrella to protect him, letting us easily tie the object in the surreal world back to the real world.
At first, I was surprised by how obvious the connections were, but as the book moves on we are introduced to new aspects of the surrealistic world—like an owl who can’t fly because the typewriter he lugs around is too heavy—that don’t have clear connections to the real world and we’re set free to puzzle over how everything fits together. It’s almost like Homeless started us on a tutorial level, and the moment we became competent he pulled away the training wheels, leaving us to figure the rest of it out.
For anyone who follows Homeless on social media (xoxohomeless), he shares his poems and they’re these short, often hilarious, bits of observations. I was curious to see how his prose was going to transfer and, surprisingly, it’s not too different. There are moments of dry humor with sharp conclusions to sections. Most of the chapters in this book are no more than two pages, which ties in with his signature style, but at times I wished he had consolidated chapters together to create better flow. At the same time, the start/stop style inspires a distinct feeling of reality slipping away one small chunk at a time. So, in the end, I’m torn. I like the effect it evokes but think it would have been a smoother novel had the chapters been longer.
It seems like Homeless has appeared out of obscurity, releasing a wealth of writing upon the world, and with this novel I hope it doesn’t stop. It’s all strangely profound and touching. At this point, I know there’s more coming, but here’s to a little more and a little more and a little more.