Vintage (2003), $13
I have to admit that I wasn't really sure about reading The Ecstatic, Victor Lavalle's second novel, because of the horror-story cover art which shows a rather disturbing-looking black creature with red horns, sharp teeth, and a frighteningly long tongue. However, three pages into the book, I was no longer put off: I was surprised, instead, by the smooth flow of the writing and by the author's off-the-cuff sense of humor. The volume is the story of Anthony James, a "mentally challenged" man who lives in the basement of his parents' home and is generally treated like Forrest Gump. Like Gump, Anthony creates goals that other, more capable folks would have trouble reaching (for instance, becoming a filmmaker). Unlike Gump, however, he's not obviously slow. We don't know why he's treated as if he's unable to think, and Anthony's voice doesn't indicate any lack in mental capacity. In fact, the character has a distinct personality and appears observant and quick-witted. Lavalle tells the tale without losing the reader's attention, but it just isn't very interesting. None of the characters other than Anthony and his sister Loraine seems distinctive, so the reader doesn't much care what happens to them. The novel might have been better if the author had written it in third person. In the end, The Ecstatic isn't a snoozer, but it's far from ecstasy.