Picks and Pans Review: Demon Box

updated 09/15/1986 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/15/1986 01:00AM

by Ken Kesey

This volume is made up of essays by the author of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and Sometimes a Great Notion. Kesey assumes that his readers will be familiar with Tom Wolfe's brilliant depiction of the famous Kesey trip (The Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test) that took place on a bus with adventures fueled by a lot more than gasoline. In this book Kesey calls himself Devlin Deboree, and there is a lot of self-conscious mumbling. "D Tank Kickout" is about being released after serving time for drug-related offenses. The guards want to know if they'll be characters in his next book. "Tranny Man Over the Border" reads like fiction about an ugly American in Mexico, showing us at our absolute worst. "Abdul & Ebenezer" are a bull and a cow, and Deboree's inept handling of farm animals makes them objects of pity. "The Day After Superman Died" helps explain why Neal Cassady—one of the players in On the Hoad and the pilot on Kesey's famous crosscountry bus trip—was such an imposing character. Here he's called Old Holy Goof Houlihan, and Kesey remembers that he was "Lenny Bruce, Jonathan Winters and Lord Buckley all together just for starters." The title essay features Dr. Klaus Woofner, proprietor of a psychological institute in Big Sur. Deboree gets into a debate with him in a hot tub, then goes back to the mental hospital where Kesey once worked (it served as the setting for Cuckoo's Nest) and winds up at a psychiatrists' convention in Walt Disney World. Everything is funny and sad, tainted with memories of some kind of glorious past that just wasn't as wonderful as some people think. The surprise here is that Kesey, despite the tough cussing and a confrontation with Hell's Angels, comes off as sweet and faintly puzzled. He's still trying to figure out what happened back when he was on the fastest track in the West. (Viking, $18.95)

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