This is a perplexing and frenzied book that explores the day of one self-baptised Sam Buddwing, a man who wakes up on a Central Park bench and doesn’t know his name, age, address or place in the world. At first the book follows the theme well as Sam strives to figure out whom he is, knowing instinctively that he belongs to New York City as a native, but not sure where he belongs. In the last third of the book things get really chaotic as we are taken down a pathway of memories and real life like an ice and fruit smoothie in a blender, all mixed up and melded into one another.
The basic premise of the book is a great one. Imagine waking up one day and not having a clue who you are or what you are doing here. Strangely the main character isn’t frightened by the event in so much as he is sure that he can work it out himself if he can just find the right clues. So we travel for the day with this unknown man as he makes contact with strangers around the city and watching his interactions with them. Each step of the way the expectation is that Sam will find someone who recognises him and will be able to fill in the gaps of his knowledge of himself.
This was undoubtedly a racy book of it time, originally published in December of 1964, as several times over the course of the day Sam Buddwing finds himself in extremely intimate situations with strangers. There is even a group sex scene that takes place during the day, although it isn’t as crudely vulgar or lewd as a similar sex scene of today would be written.
There are red herrings thrown in about Sam’s possible identity throughout the book, but it isn’t until the dying moments of the book that the truth of the situation is revealed, although it isn’t clearly delineated and seems to be lost in the chaos of the story, although that may possibly be what the author was striving to achieve.
Confusing. Disordered. Unnerving. Disjointed. Disturbing. If you like novels that are a little bit left of centre, this book is going to be right up your alley. Just don’t expect any happy endings.