Hard-boiled story of the mutual attraction between an escaped prisoner and his pursuer in Depression-era America. The Bitter Half disrobes the reality of gender, performing a striptease of masks and prosthetic devices, the subtle articulations and miscues of desire. A spit-curl lovingly tucked behind a diamond stud earring, hair brushed pageboy-style, a bibliographic collection of mastectomy scars: Toby Olson’s characters swarm with sexual multiplicity, each offering for exhibit a cyclorama of titillating identities. Â This game of poses, of one self revealed within another, opens in a jail in Depression-era Pearce, Arizona. Chris Pollard, a consultant in the field of prison escapology, has arrived to investigate the case of an inmate who’s broken out of every prison in which he has been detained. The two develop an evasive fondness from a distance—an attention to cowlicks and thin lips from between bars. Their relationship remains concealed among levels of identity, Russian Matryoshka dolls, a mystery within a mystery. Revealing their mutual attraction inch-by-inch, The Bitter Half uncovers a topographical map of seductions, of stratified assumptions and amorphousness. In the manner of Paul Auster’s The New York Trilogy and The Passion by Jeanette Winterson, Toby Olson’s latest work of fiction is rich in strangeness and erotic delight, a delectation to be enjoyed one layer at a time. Â Toby Olson, winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award for his novel Seaview, has published eight works of fiction including The Life of Jesus, The Woman Who Escaped from Shame, Utah, and Dorit in Lesbos. He has also published many volumes of poetry, most recently Human Nature. He lives with his wife in Philadelphia and Cape Cod.
Used availability for Toby Olson's The Bitter Half
August 2006 : USA Paperback