Title: The Lamentable Journey of Omaha Bigelow Into the Impenetrable Loisaida Jungle
Author: Edgardo Vega Yunque
ISBN: 1585676306 (Hardcover) / 0060846801 (trade paperback)
Published: November 4, 2004
It's so rare in a novel to be able to pinpoint, to the page, exactly where it goes wrong
. And yet.
The Lamentable Journey starts as such a beautiful idea - Omaha Bigelow, a paper-slinger at a Kinko's in New York City's East Village neighborhood, loses his job, his girlfriend, his apartment and, he thinks, his sanity in the space of 24 hours, going from being a Bohemian punk rocker with nothing to lose to an unemployed loser sleeping in Tompkins Square and panhandling for pizza money. You get the feeling that Bigelow has done this a time or three before - the difference is, those times he wasn't been tailed by a polymorphic fifteen year-old Puerto Rican girl who thinks she's in love with him, and that the two of them are part of a larger plan to reclaim the Lower East Side for her people by playing the stock market, buying warships for a Puerto Rican navy and painting them various festive colors; the aircraft carrier's magenta. Oh, and that Bigelow has a pathetically small penis but that the shape-shifter's grandmother, a mystic herself, thinks she can do something about that. Maybe.
That's in the first fifty pages, and it doesn't exactly calm down from there.
There are good things - the dialectic writing is faithful and honest, and there's a voyeuristic quality to the thing that's comfortable, I think mostly because the places Vega Yunque writes about are intimately familiar to me, from the street corners to the diners to the crappy afterhours clubs. His storytelling is authentically New York.
The problem is (or rather starts) on page 51 where, out of nowhere, Vega Yunque has one of his characters quote a real life review of one of his other fictional pieces. And just like that, the delicate little world he had worked so hard to create completely evaporates and you realise that there's, you know, an author behind all the magic pulling the strings. It happens again a bit later, and again, until you realize that the author absolutely insists on not being forgotten which is, you know, the point of a good story.
The first fifty pages, though, are wonderful. At least that's something.