Sunday, July 29, 2012
That's novelist Pauls Toutonghi sharing a laugh with one of his newest fans at Evel Knievel Days yesterday. Pauls had a table set up just outside the Hotel Finlen in uptown Butte, Montana--midway between the Wall of Death and one of the Great Wallendas walking a tightrope 50 feet above the street. A novelist hawking his wares at the raucous, booze-breath, creaking-leather-chaps festival might at first glance seem a little odd. After all, who's gonna be able to read with all those revving engines and airborne motorbikes?
But Pauls' book is about as apropos as they get. Evel Knievel Days doesn't have an appearance by the Jumpsuited One, but the spirit of Evel hovers over the early pages which are set in Butte. The book's protagonist, Khosi Saqr is an Egyptian-American living in the Mining City with his half-baked mother, a wild-haired woman he tries to keep in line. It seems to be a losing battle--one minute she's maniacally tearing up her garden because she hates the onions, and the next she's seeking calm in her house by turning off all the power. Khosi, an OCD neatnik, suffers a series of emotional crises in the early chapters which cause him to realize he may not have as firm a grasp on his life as he'd thought. The out-of-control Evel Knievel Days roaring in the background doesn't help soothe his nerves either. I'm only about 70 pages into the story so far--just before Khosi sets off for Cairo in search of his deadbeat father--but I'm already charmed by the characters and by Pauls' quick wit on the page.
Pauls himself is one of the nicest guys I've ever met. He stayed at our house last night after a somewhat harried day selling books through the hazards of wind gusts and inebriated revelers claiming they wouldn't buy a book about Evel Knievel if it was shoved up their ass. Later, over a glass of Riesling, Pauls and I had a chance to deconstruct this particular plain-spoken criticism and we concluded that shoving a book up your ass would, admittedly, be a hard way to read it. Unless you had a flashlight.
Most of the other Evel-doers who stopped at Pauls' table were a little more kind, if not outright puzzled by the stacks of novels which shot up on either side of the author like the fountains at Caesars Palace. Pauls sweetened the deal with a hand-written cardboard sign which promised a free drink with the purchase of every book. Many a satisfied biker could be seen making his way to the bar outside the Finlen, a novel in one hand and a coupon for a free Bud Light in the other. Well, that's one way to convert America into a nation of readers. If it was a stunt, then I'd say Pauls Toutonghi just did the novelist's equivalent of jumping a motorcycle over a line of school buses.