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"Year of The Rhinoceros" is a compelling, utterly original novel that savagely and hilariously explores what went wrong in this country a couple of decades ago, and that keeps going wrong even now. Neff is a raucous new voice in American literature.

   Robert Olen Butler
   Pulitzer winner

"Year of The Rhinoceros" accurately portrays an important period in American political history wherein the struggle for democracy took a wrong turn--one we've yet to come out of. In this current era of revisionism and injustice, the truth needs to be told.

   Thomas Devine

Rollicking prose, sharp observations, and a sureness of form make M. B. Neff's "Year of The Rhinoceros" a brilliant debut--a heartfelt novel of disillusionment and its consequences.

   Gary Lutz, author

by Michael B. Neff
Red Hen Press
Published 2009
ISBN: 978-1-59709-137-4

Author Bio | Interview | Novel Prose | Memorable Quotes | Controversial Reviews

    Michael Neff's debut novel is a stunning performance—a book that puts me in mind of Mark Twain after a ten year prison term locked in a cell with Laurence Sterne.

                - Robert Bausch, author

Provocative Prose From YOTR

Prologue and Chapter 1 in a flash page-turner on this site. Click on "Fullscreen"
on left and move cursor to the top of the screen to activate navigation arrows.

The fuel of the Reagan era.

Fed with hope, lies, and videotape campaign pledges, the kids had come from all points, from as close as Georgetown University and from as far away as American Samoa. Like Manny, their ambitions and enthusiasm were channeled into thoughts of change, productive and peaceful revolution, their backgrounds of Key Club civics and valedictorian speech demanding nothing less. Like rabid baseball fans full of stats, they chatted the nuances and quirks of government and its many personalities, and unlike the average bureaucrat or American, quoted Jefferson and Chomsky with equal skill, bragged of points scored and votes received in playful college games of Congress, and became giddy at the prospect of accidentally meeting The Gipper on a White House tour. They took the form of high school grads and college kids, nerds and quarterbacks, honor rollers and cheerleaders, Evangelicals and Humanists, young Republicans and Democrats, chess clubbers and pro wrestling fans—the most dedicated America could send. Driven and incredibly naive, they were willing to lick stamps or join in idol-worship at a moment's notice.

The reader tours the shining city on the hill.

Glide like the ghost of Thomas Paine or Clara Barton beneath the power-aired vaults of the Supreme Court. Cup your hands in the starry black Reflecting Pool. Stroke the faces of marble head in the Capitol and touch the shimmering surface of the White House. See your own soul in the architecture of hope. Then at dawn, call room service. Order Eggs Norwegian, kiwi fruit on the side, black coffee, and a Bloody Mary with lime. Eat and drink slowly as you gaze from your balcony across the Potomac over the acres of dome, obelisk, and temple winnowed out dark by the morning sun.

The reader meets a bizarre denizen of Washington.

You don't understand the import of this comment until a moon to mask the sun appears from behind the vanishing door. Her red hair, frazzled out thick to either side of her head, strikes out at you like a single hurled orange. Her body, hazardous as a knife, appears thin as the door crack. Her eyes, black as bowling balls, grip and gutter you. And as she looms closer, you note with a little alarm tingle that she flaunts a bulky gray sweatshirt with the words GO GATORS! emblazoned in orange impact letters on the front.

Laney Dracos vs. The First Nancy.

She pops into being like an apparition, only inches from my face. The sight of her paralyzes me as if she were Medusa herself, and even though I'm staring down at her, at least three inches taller, she rules from on high. Her type A, Hollywood-cruel eyes scratch my own eyes like fingernails, and when she speaks, her voice is painful, a razor-on-glass— just as I'd imagined it would be.

"I hear my husband thinks you look like a movie actress," she says. "Ava Gardner? Well, his eyesight isn't too good in this light. I apologize for the sexual harassment?"

The reader enters the strange world of Washington.

As you absorb all this like a sponge sucking mud, your lungs struggle for air thinned to a cough. You wonder what unknown law of Murphy is at work here. You imagine also that the wrong move in this place of darkness will result in your death.

But no matter.

Shrug off this new fear.

The power of optimism compels you.

The problem with Manny Eden.

As for the rest of his body, Manny stood out lanky and dish-white wherever he went, a six-foot-one-inch high chiaroscuro without meaning: hair and eyes of darkest brown against that pale Wisconsin skin. If he walked naked into a bare, sunlit room, he morphed into a smear of shadow. His real physical handicap though was what Kenosha elders, cosmeticians and convenience store clerks termed, "a punch-it face." Even Mommy K said he sported a "smirky mug," the kind people liked to hit, and that's why Dr. Killany, chief therapist at St. E's, and Manny's biggest enemy, often imagined Manny to be dismissing him as a loathsome bureaucrat for deliberately falsifying Manny's condition in order to keep him a political prisoner of Washington.

Laney versus Emperatriz Soors.

My time has come.

I go cold, my throat gulping, my eyes bulging.

"Aunt Emperatriz," he says, pointing a limp finger in my direction, his body already slouching with apology, "this is . . . Laney Dracos, a friend from work. She's a graduate of Princeton, and, uh . . . a poet."

The Ultimate Nexus of Soors turns to approach me, and I realize I could never have truly prepared myself for her onslaught. While heavy with Gertrude, I'm forced to go face-to-face with a Washington-honed melange of moth-like flesh and dominance, her features ballooning into focus one layer at a time, the throbbing vision of her assaulting me in successive stages. I feel like she's sucking me in, head to toe ...

Manny Eden fantasizes a surreal revenge upon his boss.

Before the boss can utter another word, Manny lashes out. He starts with a simple frying pan. He imagines it hurtling out of the kitchen. It skims Hunsecker's head and whirls across the dining room like a loose helicopter blade to knock one of the Washingtonians unconscious, ricocheting off his forehead with a loud kuh-whang before skidding to rest in a plate of Caesar salad. At the same time, the faux-plants in glass begin to squirm and seep loose into the walls. Some of them imbed snugly in the gypsum and crisp to fossils. Others slide like melting plates of wax to the floor, congealing there to fly-trap mouths that squeak like tortured mice and scurry around in search of toe prey.

The entire dining room begins to scream.

Laney becomes anxious as she awaits retaliation.

Okay, so next I'm bumping aimless again in the half-light of the Soors museum, trying to shake off Nancy and Gertrude at the same time, searching for any reflective surfaces that might resemble Jane Russell on a bad hair day—trays, iron lips, shiny Roman weenies—also yawning intensely and snatching glops of pate and ice-water. And I'm anxious too because I sense REPERCUSSIONS.

I don't have long to wait.

Manny Eden is surprised by his boss.

A snort of hot breath fans the dust from his back. He turns, and following his about face, Manny's vision staggers him backwards, his eyes filling with a man-sized ray of pink. He notes with astonishment how this sizzling pink span is sliced down its center by a black and plummeting smudge that looks like a comet—and inside the tip of this comet, a red eye inset with golden pupil.

The eye is fixed on Manny.

The Novel