By Cory Casciato
Narwhal Slotterfield has a lot of issues. His social skills are questionable. His ethical approach, particularly in his work as a basketball referee, could charitably be called unusual; less charitably, it could be called a disaster. But his biggest problem is the fact that, for him and no one else, time seems to have literally come to a complete stop.
Slotterfield is the protagonist of Gregory Hill’s latest, and strangest novel, Zebra Skin Shirt, a tale of one man’s quest to find himself in a world where he’s the only thing moving. The story kicks off in earnest when Slotterfield relieves himself in a diner bathroom on the eastern plains of Colorado. During his moment of urination he’s inspired to propose to his girlfriend, Veronica, who’s waiting for him back at their table. Unfortunately for his plan, but perhaps fortunately for his soul, cosmic coincidence interferes, and when he exits the bathroom he finds himself in a unique predicament: the world has stopped, leaving him the only thing still moving.
In his now still, silent world, Slotterfield is, at first, still something of a jerk, but eventually his time alone—and some of the things he learns by peering into other people’s business, not to mention a bit of psilocybin—push him to reevaluate his past, his actions and his place in the world. It’s an epic tale in its own way, though less the Hero’s Journey and more the fool’s, with a suitably grand and thoroughly bizarre ending that manages to tie together time travel, Slotterfield’s improbable origins and the author’s two previous novels into a satisfying package.
It’s a literary novel that has plenty to say about the human condition, but don’t let that scare you off. Where some might choose to explicate those truths via long, ruminant passages from the mind of a sensitive and tortured protagonist, Hill does so with clever, biting wit and pure doses of absolute bugshit insanity, all held together with a solid story and some likable-despite-themselves characters. Absurd and surreal, without ever crossing the line into silliness, Zebra Skin Shirt is an excellent novel from an author that clearly understands the stupidity, chaos and madness of existence, and isn’t afraid to embrace it all and put it on the page.
Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky—from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games. His work has appeared in The AV Club, Colorado Public Radio, Westword and many other places. He really likes zombies.