The Millennium Shows by Philip E. Baruth, San Francisco

by Seth Ross, Publisher

It's difficult to imagine what it'd be like to lose all memory. Viewing ourselves in the mirror, we perceive a steady image, distinct, skin-encapsulated, and bound by a lifetime of memory. Often, we expect the same of the stories we read, write, and tell.

The protagonist of The Millennium Shows, Story, remembers nothing before his first Dead show, or so he says. As the song goes, someone, or something, has stolen "his face right off his head." As he wanders about the malls and countryside, there are hints about his identity: a credit card, posters put up at shows. Vexingly, Story's story is as open-ended and diffuse as his character; he can't contradict those that would define him by externalities, nor can he explain his life beyond recantations of songs played, friends lost and found, the mechanics of travel.

When you see the bright tie-dye cover of the novel, you might expect an adoring and upbeat Deadhead chronicle inside. Instead, there's existential bemusement, broken only by small human touches and the sharpness of Story's vision: Just because Story can't remember, doesn't mean he can't see. Rather than a hippie daydream, we have an exploration of what it means to live in compromise at the end of the 20th-century. The uncited musical themes that inform the novel ring true: you could just as easily spend the night in a cave up in the hills as get up and fly away.

Are you still on the bus? I invite you to join Story as he warms up to the journey in the Prologue of The Millennium Shows. If you find Philip Baruth's style provocative, perhaps you'll wish to read through to the end, where the hope of the new millennium dangles fantastically in front of us. In every case, we hope you enjoy the ride.

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