Michael “Caruso” Taylor is a man with a problem. He can’t speak. In fact, he can't do much of anything the way he once used to. A successful English professor, he can hardly compose a coherent sentence, or remember much of anything he once knew. On top of this, he is slowly regressing toward infancy. He calls it "The Wasties," a condition with no known cause and no known cure. He throws his sippy cup. He bites his nurse. He tries to wall himself into his bedroom. He tries to run away. But as Caruso slips further and further away from sanity and adulthood, his mental life begins to soar.
Distinctive, funny and deeply affecting, The Wasties presents a unique vision that offers insights into madness, aging, notions of success, and the desire to abdicate from the responsibilities of adulthood.
Alienation cloaks itself in a new and blackly humorous guise in this third novel by Reuss (Henry of Atlantic City; Horace Afoot). English professor Michael "Caruso" Taylor has lost the ability to speak and embarks on a journey of infantilization that progressively strips him of his autonomy a condition he labels "the wasties." He grows entirely dependent on others: his pregnant wife, Gina; his nurse, Theresa; and a host of health-care professionals who attempt to rein in his childish impulses. Taylor communicates via scribbled messages, IBM ThinkPad and hand gestures. This occasionally makes for humorous episodes, such as Taylor's psychosexual explanation to his therapist of why he bit Theresa's hand. A side effect of the wasties includes seeing famous people, often long deceased (Walt Whitman, Marianne Moore, John Muir), in prosaic disguise (e.g., Ralph Ellison as a male nurse) and occasionally holding conversations with them. Reuss employs this device effectively at first, since such interactions match Taylor's deteriorating condition, yet as they multiply, they grow stale. Another problem is the novel's dependence on Taylor's observations and thoughts, which lose their bite as Taylor sinks into greater dependence. In his previous novels, Reuss proved himself to be a highly original and idiosyncratic thinker. Here he manages flashes of insight into the innate human desire to flee communication and autonomy, but flounders as the novel floats free of solid plot and character development. Still, Reuss's insouciant weirdness Taylor takes to communicating in fragments of Simon and Garfunkel songs and he does the hokey pokey to NPR as part of his physical therapy gives the novel a loopy charm. (Aug. 21) Forecast: The cultish appeal of Henry of Atlantic City and Horace Afoot won Reuss a small following of devoted readers. The Wasties won't broaden his reach, but should satisfy most fans. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.