The Fan Man
by William Kotzwinkle
E.P. Dutton – Obelisk
Rating – 6.5/10
Summary – The Fan Man centers on the misadventures of uber-cool hippie Horse Badorties. While the book is funny and easy to read, the plot is too thin.
Review – William Kotzwinkle’s The Fan Man is a novel that depends on a particular setting (Manhattan’s Lower East Side) and time (the late-1960s and early-1970s). The hero is Horse Badorties, whose strange obsession with handheld fans gives the book its title. Horse is the ultimate hipster, but that doesn’t stop Kotzwinkle from poking fun at him for almost 200 pages.
Potential readers should know that the novel is a “slice of life.” There is a slight plot that focuses on Horse’s attempts to build a chorus of 15-year-old girls for the ultimate concert. But the joy in The Fan Man is in experiencing life through Horse’s eyes.
Horse is the ultimate unreliable narrator, owing to his terrible memory and inability to hold his thoughts together for more than a moment. In fact, Horse’s memory is so bad that he tape records his thoughts so that he can “jog his memory” by playing them back later. Horse’s garbled thoughts can make The Fan Man difficult to follow –
Horse Badorties waking up oh no not another day Horse Badorties, not another day of running around buying school bus, selling fans, going crazy. You don’t want another day. Go back to sleep in your junk pile, man, catch a few more zzzzz’s. Snuggle back down into empty milk carton, valuable treasures, sink back down into. Remove wax from eardrum hear better, make small figures, start ear-wax museum. To sleep again Horse Badorties to sleep (p. 57).
Though Horse can be incoherent, he is still fun. In addition to directing his chorus, Horse also buys an old school bus (with a rubber check), manages to obtain four apartments in the same building (though he never pays rent), and smokes loads of dope. The novel includes many funny lines that sneak up on the reader – “Two pads, man. The rent will be high but it’s not so bad if you don’t pay it” (p. 11).
Inevitably, some of Horse’s values will upset some readers. For instance, he is cavalier about women; in addition to his attempts to make his 15-year-old chorus girls his concubines, one of Horse’s girlfriends is raped. When the girlfriend tells Horse what happened to her, he is not particularly concerned.
The Fan Man is short, easy reading. But it’s a bit like spending time with real-life hippies; there are moments of fun, but nothing much ever happens. Still, readers will enjoy The Fan Man, provided that they keep in mind that the journey is the reward.