Humpty Dumpty: An Oval - Damon Knight
"A modern classic in the making," said the blurb, somewhat prematurely as it turned out. I first saw this book in a Key West bookshop in 2000, but as "Jaguars Ripped My Flesh!" looked more interesting I bought that instead, making a mental note of the title and planning to pick up a copy later. In the meantime, the book seems to have sunk without trace, and is now quite hard to get hold of. Having now read it, I'm not entirely surprised.
Wellington Stout is an underwear salesman in late middle-age, who has been shot in the head while delivering a mysterious package in Milan. The book follows his increasingly surreal quest to find out what happened, pursued by shady figures, while the earth starts to disintegrate under various natural disasters and alien invasions. Is this all a conspiracy led by dentists? Is he doing the travelling but hallucinating the details? Is he actually still in the hospital? Or what? Unfortunately it's quite difficult to care.
Don't get me wrong, it's not a bad book; it's well written and the surreality is quite engaging. However, it just seems to lack a point. By the end, it's clear that even knowing the answer to Knight's puzzle (he has put some clues on Amazon), the book still doesn't make sense. It was a nice idea, but doesn't really work.