Eddie Plum, who insists he’s been unjustifiably committed to a California psychiatric hospital, manages to finally escape after fourteen years of incarceration to start his life anew. On the run, he holes up in a sheltered barrio on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean owned by his wealthy but unsympathetic father. Here he meets Sweets, the telepathic dog, laments the loss of Sofia, his madhouse lover, and plays the horses at the Del Mar Racetrack. Eventually he meets up with an old friend, Shelly Hubbard, a fellow horseplayer, record collector/dealer, and hardcore loner, who tells him about his brother, Donny, dead at the age of eighteen from a tragic dive off a thirty-foot La Jolla sea cliff known as the Clam. Eddie discovers a family secret and wants to help, but by then he’s already embroiled in the psychotic incident with the Tijuana prostitutes, the madhouse lover, and the police, who are hot on his tail. Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride has nothing on Whirlaway a hilarious novel of escaped mental patients, horseplayers, and record collectors.
Host Ken Jones talks with Poe Ballantine, author of the new book Whirlaway: The Great American Loony Bin, Horseplaying & Record-Collecting Novel, published by Portland’s Hawthorne Books.
Poe has published seven books and hundreds of stories and...Forward
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“At twenty-seven years old I was not emotionally equipped for living under lock and key behind sixteen-foot cyclone fences and having my ass stabbed every three days with drugs that turned my brains to buttermilk.” -Eddie Plum
To read the excerpt...Forward
Poe Ballantine is brilliant…He is utterly transparent on the page, a rare thing. He’s like a bird that’s almost but not quite extinct.
- Cheryl Strayed
- Author of Wild
Whirlaway is a fever dream of my favorite things: horse racing, records, booze, insanity, and women.
What a strange and crazed comedic ride. Ballantine’s writing is like no other.
- Willy Vlautin
- Author of The Free
Poe Ballantine’s prose cuts right to the bone (the one that’s stuck in America’s throat), but manages to preserve not only the sweetest meat but the barbecue sauce, as well. Mark Twain would have admired his wit, and had Oscar Wilde read him, he would have bought an old Ford pickup and moved to Nebraska the day he got out of the slammer, hoping that some of his style rubbed off on him. A book without style is like a swan without feathers—it’s just another plucked chicken—but this new one of Ballantine’s is in its funky way majestic as it zigzags downstream. Poe Ballantine is the most soulful, insightful, funny, and altogether luminous “under-known” writer in America. He knocks my socks off, even when I’m barefoot.
- Tom Robbins
- Author of Tibetan Peach Pie
Poe Ballantine is deceptive. You’re floating along on the darkly comedic surface of this novel, enjoying the strange ride, but then the undercurrents will grab you. Under the humor is pain and beauty and hope. Moving and original.
- Gin Phillips
- Author of Fierce Kingdom
The happiest book about mental illness, murder, loss, and disfigurement you will ever read. I loved it.
- Brian Juenemann
- Executive Director, Marketing, Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association
Ballantine walks a wry tightrope here, imbuing his debauched characters with the drunken nobility of Steinbeck’s “boys,” not to mention a healthy dose of gonzo angst. What results is a wanton misadventure that often flips from laughter to tears on a dime. Bukowski and his ilk might appreciate this oddball version of the hero’s journey, soaked in beer and melancholia.
- Kirkus Reviews
The heart of Whirlaway is in the friendship between Eddie and Shelly, both damaged and jittery in their own ways. It’s an emotional snare you never see coming: Ballantine’s writing seems to at first echo the immutably (and sometimes noxiously) masculine writers of the 20th century like Hunter S. Thompson, Ken Kesey, Tom Robbins, and particularly Charles Bukowski (who’s mentioned by name, a phantom flitting throughout the book’s Southern California backdrop). But the writing is so good, so fluid and funny, that its madcap bombast has already won you over before the emotional beats kick in. The unpredictability of Ballantine’s wonderfully precise descriptions—he’s particularly adroit at pinpointing smells—makes reading just a few quick chapters feel like observing the world afresh. Whirlaway could’ve coasted on its hilarity alone, but following Eddie as he regains his footing in the real world gives the reader a new lease on life, too. The long odds of Ballantine’s unorthodox tale pay off.
- Ned Lannamann
- Portland Mercury