House of Choates by Brad Zellar

House of Coates
Brad Zellar

Coffee House Press
Minneapolis 2014 paperback

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“. . . a well-written narrative laced with suspense, humor . . . “

Journalist Brad Zeller and photographer Alec Soth have cooperated in a mixed-media experiment, “House of Coates,” to fabricate a vividly drawn character. They succeed so well that a supposedly real-life reporter attempts to track down the man, one Lester B. Morrison, a vagrant living on the outskirts of Minnesota.

In an afterword to the pair’s unusual poetic prose novel, Lester Broke Me, the reporter, J. K. Bergen, writes that he is convinced the author must have had a intimate or analytic personal relationship with Lester to have captured him precisely. Zeller’s compelling tale is enhanced with Soth’s eerie, forsaken photographs of empty spaces, hotel rooms, ice-and-snow-caked homes, all supposedly taken by Lester with his disposable camera.

The beginning spells out the focus of the novel: “Here’s to the prisoners of disenchantment, the lost, broken men bullied and inoculated against hope as children and eventually immunized against all notice of attention.”

In the narrative, when Lester fell into into his “dark place,” he goes to a refinery, which he called “The Kingdom of Nah.” The locale mirrored his world: Smoke and fire, stench and soot and “the tens of thousands of light towers” that demonstrated “how pervasive and impenetrable the darkness was.” Lester is not hiding, but looking for something, and he is not a hermit. He can’t be missing, says the narrator, unless someone is looking for him.

Zellar explores Lester’s childhood and explains his apathy. If he got a job, he would be at the end of the pecking order and the bullying would continue. This is not a tragic view of a homelessness, but rather an exploration into the events that drive a person to escape the mainstream of life. Lester is a likable person and is capable of relationship as is demonstrated with he meets another lost soul, Majel Eames, whose mania is an apocalyptic religion.

It’s not a lengthy, preachy book but a well-written narrative laced with suspense, humor and beautifully rhythmic language.

Reviewer: Kate Padilla