Jerome Coe, the narrator of Dallas native Bill Cotter ’s dark and picaresque Fever Chart , accurately (if uncharitably) describes himself as a “needy, yellow, luckless, less-than-reliable mutilatee who comes with fallible shut-off valves.” Nevertheless, one is charmed by Jerome from the moment he appears, newly discharged from the Boll Compound for a Variety of Disturbances and patiently tolerating his landlord’s lecture on the rudeness of messy suicides. He might be unbalanced (he sees thought bubbles appear over people’s heads with phrases such as “The hen was not my mother”), but he is positively Chaplinesque in his plucky forbearance. As a surrealistic series of misadventures, hospitalizations, and unshakable infatuations (alas, women are his weakness) takes him from Massachusetts to New Orleans, it is Jerome versus the world—and we are firmly on his side. We cheer his fifteen minutes of fame in the Times-Picayune as an ace cheese-sandwich cook. We suffer with him when he cannot quite match the notions inside his head with the reality outside it. Cotter gives only the briefest of nods to plot, but Fever Chart is not about the destination so much as the reckless, driving-with-your-knees journey, and Jerome Coe is an antihero for the ages. McSweeney’s, $22
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