"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
"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.
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
YEAR OF THE RHINOCEROS
by Michael B. Neff
Red Hen Press
Author Bio | Interview | Novel Prose | Memorable Quotes | Controversial Reviews
Michael Neff's debut novel is a stunning performancea 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 fansthe 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 daytrays, iron lips, shiny Roman weeniesalso
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 cometand inside the tip of this
comet, a red eye inset with golden pupil.
The eye is fixed on Manny.