copyright 1986; autographed by Paul West on title page: "Congratulations on so....a reading! from Poulisfer [novel protagonist] and me, Paul West" - see pictures; Doubleday & Company publishers, New York; hardbound; very good condition of pages; dust jacket has minor edge wear and very small cut on back.
The Rat Man, Etienne Poulsifer, is the survivor of an unthinkable childhood event-- the burning of his village and his family by the Nazis. When Poulsifer hears that a Nazi war criminal is in a Paris jail, he evolves a kind of street theater piece as a political protest in which he tricks himself up in Nazi regalia and wheels around a fox fur in a baby carriage. His obsessive and ill-considered, yet to him logical and necessary act careens out of control, and the startling outcome represents both loss and redemption.
While there are indeed various events and activities in the novel, most of the action takes place in the protagonist’s wandering mind. Etienne Poulsifer is known to most as the “Rat Man of Paris” for his habit of accosting strangers on the street and revealing a live rat (later rubber, wooden, or dead ones and finally a fox fur) hidden under his coat. Almost invariably, the startled or appalled passersby proffer money to dismiss Rat Man, who regards his actions as rituals for “tweaking the race. Helping it evolve.”
On one of his excursions, he meets Sharli Bandol, who is not frightened by his gesture and who invites him to her apartment for a meal. The two are immediately attracted to each other (though Rat Man, now in his sixties, disheveled and stoop-shouldered, is anything but physically attractive) out of their mutual desire to give and receive affection. Their favorite pastime is to park on the runway approach at a nearby airport as the planes roar overhead and discuss anything and everything.
In his mental wanderings, Rat Man takes the reader back to the central events of his life—the Nazi occupation and near-total extermination of his village. While his parents are burned alive, the young Poulsifer hides under floorboards and is later reluctantly adopted by a fellow survivor, Madame R. On the surface, Rat Man appears to be a zombie as a result of these experiences, and often he feels only barely alive, yet he strives...