GOING, GOING, GONE
Grove Press / 192 pages / April 2001
Jack Womack’s mind doesn’t work like ours do. His writing isn’t like anyone else’s. In the world of psychedelic, hard-boiled, genuinely speculative fiction, this is the one and only. (Note to self: check to see that Womack is taking his vitamins.) This novel — sadly, last in the Ambient series — is as unique and mind-boggling as everything he writes. Put simply? It’s a real trip.
Now, if you’ve been an especially astute reader and kept up with Womack’s Ambient series, through wild rides like Terraplane and Heathern, this going to be familiar territory…or as familiar as this landscape ever gets. We’ve made it through manufactured Messiahs, homicidal Elvis, time-travel, and far too much to go into here, and arrived here in a 1968 that never existed…as far as we know.
Walter Bullitt is an independent man, a freelancer for the government, a voluntary lab rat for psychotropes, a man-about-New-York, with a strong sense of self-preservation. The latest assignment “offered” to him doesn’t sit well with his conscience. Could be that he doesn’t want to get involved with the notorious Kennedy clan. Certainly, he’s more than usually distracted by the arrival of two new female faces in town. And, really, the unannounced company of two ghosts fading in and out whenever the mood hits them isn’t adding to his attention span.
With bosses like Bullitt’s, though, it’s hard to tell exactly what any given assignment is really about.
If Going, Going, Gone is your first exposure to Womack, you might have a bit of trouble at first with his eccentric “Ambientspeak.” It’s a bit of the 60s, a touch of mobster, a hint of Cold War spy talk, and some words that are entirely Womack’s. You know what to do with an alien language: just keep reading and let it flow over and past you; suddenly, you’ll realise you understand. Once you’ve got it you’re going to wish you could switch to this foreign language, but, really, it works best within a book.
Because this is the last novel of the Ambient series, Womack ties up all the loose ends, right? No! Of course not! That’s not how he works. Once you’ve finished the last page, you’ll get the sneaking suspicion that much was left unresolved. No kidding. Going, Going, Gone may be as detached from reality as the rest of Womack’s books, but it has enough in common with “real life” to keep that straight — things don’t tie up in neat packages.
With all that’s going on in this singular series, Womack still finds room to work in a common-sense commentary on race relations; how far we’ve come and how little we’ve progressed. Though it’s there on every page, it is administered with such a deft touch that the references may slip by you for quite awhile, until they start to accumulate.
Going, Going, Gone toys with a just-suppose speculation that reaches into every corner of Womack’s jolting fiction. How different would life be now if ________ happened, what if _______ never took place? What if…? Maybe we’ll never know, but then again, maybe Womack has gotten as close as anyone ever will. Imbibe, and see — it’s well worth the trip.