Song of Ourself

Rodes Fishburne is a Grotto writer, so it was only a matter of time before someone bought his first novel. That happens to people who belong to the Grotto — they publish, early and often. Fishburne greatly increased his chances by writing a comic novel about San Francisco with a Jazz Age swagger, full of the dangle of cable cars and snap of fedoras, the stink of corrupt politicians and the smell of cigars, and also tweed. Only Going to See the Elephant is not set in the 1940s, but rather today, giving readers the disorienting effect that the thick-steak, Madame Wong, fogbound city of your dreams — really of everybody’s dreams, of Herb Caen’s and Original Joe’s and the Chronicle’s dreams — is happening right now. For the most part, it’s irresistible. The main character, dreaming of fiction and dead white writers, instead finds himself working as a famous reporter, laying bare the secrets of the city by simply “listening” to it, which allows Fishburne to paint the city and its people. It’s a pulpish, brisk read that’s mostly interested in you having a good time — it could be the “If you liked Water for Elephants …” novel of 2009, if our local booksellers get behind it.
Thu., Jan. 29, 12:30 p.m., 2009

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