“In a material society where people define themselves by the things they own, how can individuality exist if everyone owns the same things?”
Beige. Manila folders. That inoffensive, nameless metallic color your Hondayota CamCord comes in every time you buy a new one. Tedium. Ennui.
An Epitaph for Coyote introduces the reader to a boring man, Henry Pluck, who holds down a boring job, to fund his boring life in Las Vegas, the land of bing-bing and bling-dah-bling-bling. He provides us with an uncomfortable mirror in which we see ourselves, but the portrait is unflattering showing us the more we try to control reality, the more imprisoned we become.
The clever naming of protagonist cannot be dismissed. “Henry” could not be a more middle-of-the road name, but his surname, Pluck, illustrates his biggest challenge: to summon the strength to risk, to become plucky. That is the storyline in a nutshell.
To the maximum extent possible, Pluck controls the limits of his space, be it his work cubicle, his house, or the rigid rules in his mind for looking at women. He derives the kind of satisfaction some OCD types revel in. Except, that he is unhappy, if truth be told, and total control remains elusive especially when a lone cockroach wiggles into view and subsequently a bug lady named Rosa.
Mind-numbingly banal memoranda interrupt the story sending out admonishments every one of us has seen where we work and through this device the author cleverly links Pluck’s plight to ours, making his dissatisfaction with the status quo ours.
An Epitaph for Coyote reminds me of Ray Bradbury’s short story There Will Come Soft Rains in which a fully automated house, with unfailing predictability, goes about the business of catering to a dead family after a nuclear war. Like Bradbury’s masterpiece, Dennis’ work has that same, seemingly detached tone, which deepens the reader’s discomfort, and draws us in. As with Bradbury’s piece, social commentary abounds in this satirical novel. The “little pink houses for you and me” world we experience in American suburbia controls us to the maximum extent we allow it to and we need to break free to live.
We want Henry Pluck’s world to be challenged and Rosa is just the catalyst for the job. Paradoxically, Rosa does not want to kill roaches and is quite OK with letting them thrive. The roaches represent a clever metaphor for people trapped in their lives of seeming perfection.
Over time, Rosa jangles Pluck’s world causing him to tolerate more cognitive dissonance over his inability to exert absolute control and bit by bit he relinquishes.
The trick is to be open to change when the bug lady comes to kill your roaches.
(reviewed 22 days after purchase)