I first noted the name Bradley Denton in connection with the excellent story “The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians” in Fantasy & Science Fiction. Along with Lucius Shepard’s “The Scalehunter’s Beautiful Daughter,” it was my pick of best short fiction of 1988, and I tried to cajol everyone I knew into reading it. Denton had a way with humor and pathos that captured the heart and soul of Lenny Bruce and John Belushi, and said something about everyone at the same time.
I was extremely pleased to find out that Denton moved to Austin sometime around then so that I could tell him how much I liked that story. He was humble and effusive at the same time, and the one thing that I remember him saying in response was “I don’t even feel like the same guy who wrote that story.” It’s easy to understand his alienation when you realize that he probably wrote it in 1985, had it rejected a couple of times before Ed Ferman bought it (say in 1987) and it’s ultimate appearance in F&SF in 1988. A lot of things can happen in three years. Three years ago Mark Ziesing sold books from Conneticut, Ed Ferman was the editor of Fantasy & Science Fiction, people thought the words Russia and USSR were interchangeable, and there were American hostages in the middle-east.
When Neil Barrett, Jr. started selling his weird and wild stories to Asimov’s like “Sweetheart Ginny’s,” the talk around the Austin SF scene sounded like this: Neil must have sat too close to Howard Waldrop and mutated. If not for the evidence of “The Calvin Coolidge Home for Dead Comedians,” I would be saying the same thing about Denton now. Denton’s first novel, Wrack & Roll, didn’t do much for me, but this novel knocked me for a loop. The biggest trouble with this book is that it’s hard to describe, except to quote the title. Kind of like Howard Waldrop, with a little bit of Ken Grimwood’s Replay, and a lot of humor that is Denton’s own. This is my pick for the novel of 1991.