About Tobacco Brown

Tobacco Brown is the story of a man whose mind is fragmenting into wildly disparate pieces, each breaking off in its own conception--psychological drama, brutal reality, mordant satire--but each incorporating shadows and shards of the others, and each hero of them driven by the same awful curse: a need to search out the nature of reality.

In the core story, Barney Kadesh is on the run because he has killed... or maybe he hasn't... his nemesis, the fat fuck.  Trying to check its own rapid deterioration, Barney's mind conjures up for him a fully fleshed and articulate hallucination: the mythic Civil War hero, Tobacco Brown, who assures Barney that he is a genius, and elected of God.  Which gives Barney the sublime calmness he has been seeking.  As well as Pilgrim Fletcher, the girl he loves.

And then electroconvulsive therapy restores Barney's sanity.  Which costs him Tobacco Brown.  And confronts him with the loathsome probability of his own mediocrity.  To forestall that, and with his pre-T.B craftiness rapidly reasserting itself, he begins the building of an enormous church, founded on a reinventing of Isaac Newton's beloved heresy, Arianism.  At the instruction, Barney assures his ardent followers, of the church's Prophet, Tobacco Brown.

In the course of a sermon to his ecclesia, the Reverend Kadesh relates the tale of Lt. Tobias Brown who, searching for his horse, stolen from him at the Battle of Appomattax, encounters Melinda Harkin, an elegant and beautiful woman, her mind fractured by the war and the death of her husband in it, who supports herself and her eight-year-old son by whoring.  But convincing herself that every man she brings home--carpet-bagger or Union trooper... or Tobacco Brown--is her lost Matthew, miraculously returned to her.  However, the exquisite goodness and purity of soul T.B. finds in Melinda begins to ease the war's cruelty out of him.  And in turn, his love of her and her fiercely protective boy is able to lift her fragile veil of madness...  Until violence puts an end to the unlikely but idyllic family they have made for themselves.  And sets Tobacco Brown off on a career of outlawry.  That ends with his very nearly self-willed lynching.

With Tobacco Brown gone, and with Barney on a tear, the Author-Narrator of the book--unnamed, unlocated in time or space--himself looking to avoid a visit to an ECT unit, slips the fourth wall and into the book, challenging Barney's intention to be his own character. 

When Barney becomes more pain in the ass than the Author cares to put up with, he maniacally shoves Barney out of the book, and records, instead, the Candidian adventures of St. Rover of Galilee, a mongrel dog canonized by Pope Stephen VI shortly after the conclusion of his Synod Horrenda, then cursed by the brutally ambitious Cardinal Sergius to traverse the millennia in search of the true meaning of meaning. In the course of his pilgrimage he meets wise men--and dogs--from Simeon Stylites to Steven Pinker.

The principal focus remains, though, upon the contention, ultimately savage, between Barney and the Author-Narrator, to see which of them will control the book.  And which of them will push the other over lunacy's edge.


"The best work of fiction I’ve yet encountered in the 21st century."

Lewis R. Baxter, Jr., M.D.,
Professor of Psychiatry
and Neuroscience,
University of Florida

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"The backstory of T.B. is utterly cinematic and will make a jewel of a motion picture."

David Paulsen,

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"A very funny, deeply moving book whose conclusions about the nature of reality I couldn’t disagree with more."

Edie Shapiro, Librarian/Archivist,
Philosophical Research Society

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"An astonishing work of the imagination which should not only be read, it should be taught. Tobacco Brown is a landmark."

Robert Robin, Novelist

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