Reading Gregory Daurer's novel A Western Capitol Hill is a bit like taking a long ride on the Number 15 bus — eclectic, disorienting, occasionally appalling, but never dull. Part picaresque, part political spoof, the ebook focuses on unsavory goings-on in the Denver of a decade ago, from the gold dome of the Statehouse to some thinly disguised local bars and restaurants to alleys favored by the dissolute and the homeless, where a serial killer known as the Denver Decapitator plies his trade. And yes, just like in the cheap horror movies favored by legendary drive-in movie-fan Joe Bob Briggs, heads do roll.
An early scene unfolds on the Colfax bus, where a hapless, heavily medicated passenger sees dragons menacing his town. He's not unlike the pigeons outside the City and County Building — which, we soon learn, are being fed a hallucinogenic drug "used by business property owners to discourage birds from loitering." There's a touch of William S. Burroughs in that kind of humor, and more than a jigger of Hunter S. Thompson, too.
That isn't surprising. Daurer, a freelance writer and photographer whose byline has shown up in venues ranging from Salon to High Times, has done a series of interviews with noted authors, including Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg and William Gibson — and Dr. Gonzo is clearly an influence as well. He's also a singer-songwriter who records as Gregory Ego and performs as a member of Reverend Lead Pipe and His Pipe-Wielding Swingers.
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All of which makes for a heady pedigree for Daurer's first novel. The episodic plot — a series of riffs on yesterday's headlines, including one about a transgendered real estate agent squaring off with a religious-right politician over gay adoptions — seems slightly dated, and the satire is surprisingly gentle. The writing is admirably deadpan overall, but in places could have used the kind of rigorous copyediting that's usually missing from self-published ebooks. (Point of disclosure: Daurer consulted me briefly about Colorado prisons in the course of his research, but I had no input into the actual manuscript.) Still, there are some engaging moments involving a please-like-me, Hickenlooperish mayor named Mockingbird, some artful history and nostalgia concerning such vanished Denver institutions as the downtown Woolworth's, and even a cameo appearance by the ghost of Molly Brown. What's not to like about that?
A Western Capitol Hill is available from Amazon, and Daurer will read from the book and perform a few songs as part of Mutiny Information Cafe's monthly variety show, starting at 7 p.m. on Monday, July 6, at 2 South Broadway. For more information, call 303-778-7579. The audio excerpt below features the author giving a Very Beat reading of the opening section, with appropriate train sounds.