This is an account of a man's life on the streets with his dog Lizbeth. Lars Eighner recounts a life of poverty, physical stress and ever-present anxiety, as he and his dog make quixotic journeys on foot and thumb across the American desert.
Steinbeck, Eighner isn't - his stiff sentences and three-dollar words betray him - and Lizbeth is no Charley, either. But as a once-homeless gay writer who, with his dog, was down and out from Austin to Hollywood, Eighner has an unusual tale to tell nonetheless. Unfortunately, he's told the best part of it in "On Dumpster Diving," an essay about living out of dumpsters that's included here but that's already reached a wide readership through its original publication in Threepenny Review and reprinting in nine periodicals and seven anthologies. A nifty bit of urban anthropology, it balances street savvy ("Candy...is usually safe if it has not drawn ants") and pavement philosophy ("Once I was the sort of person who invests objects with sentimental value. Now I no longer have those objects, but I have the sentiments yet"). Here, it's embedded in the fortysomething author's account of his wanderings in the late 80's as he - after quitting a job at a mental hospital - tried to make it as a writer (mostly of gay, often erotic, fiction). The problem is that, as Eighner admits, "Every life has trivial occurrences, pointless episodes, and unresolved mysteries, but a homeless life has...virtually nothing else." What's offered here, though, is mostly minutiae of Eighner's own homeless life: hunting for food, shelter, and rides; befriending this vagabond and that; gay couplings. Occasionally, Eighner soapboxes (e.g., contending that the number of homeless addicts is "greatly overestimated") or injects minor drama into his yarn (e.g., Lizbeth's capture by a dogcatcher - an incident that reveals cracks in the author's facade when he says that it allowed him to understand mass vengeance killings by lone gunmen). But for the most part, Eighner's story is a tedious one, told with little style. A more reliable memoir of homeless life than Joe Homeless's My Life on the Streets (1992) - but less revealing and gripping than Jennifer Toth's The Mole People (p. 924). (Kirkus Reviews)