Your Friends & Neighbors

We'll probably never know why alcoholic, womanizing, The Gong Show host Chuck Barris claimed to be an assassin for the CIA who ran missions in enemy territory and seduced women across the globe while inventing game shows such as The Dating Game and The Newlywed Game. But I kinda want to believe it. Who hasn't dreamed of being a super agent, in hat and trench coat, evading baddies while risking your life for your country? But even more improbable than Barris' book claiming his secret life is the one about Travis Anderson. The 30-something Lakewood slacker made millions on the dot-com boom because of a premonition he trusted, but he's gotten lazy and paranoid, spending his days worrying that his credit card-maxing wife, Shelby, and coke-snorting frat brother/business partner, Reed, are having an affair, and enjoying the swirling water sound of his business going down the toilet while he drinks in his office and plays on the Web site That is, until an alcoholism intervention turns into a plot to draft him to become a psychic spy for a government organization called Shimmer after he scores too well at PsychicCow. And you thought those time-wasting Internet games and quizzes were just for fun.

Of course, there is no Travis Anderson, really. He's a character in Will Clarke's Lord Vishnu's Love Handles, a new-to-hardback book originally self-published by the Dallas author. It's already been optioned by Paramount Pictures to be a film directed by fellow local boy David Gordon Green. Unlike Barris' story, you don't want Travis' to be real. The story features grand conspiracies, remote viewing, murderous government employees, an albino wannabe-vampire, high jinks in the bowels of Disney World and a Charles Manson-worshiping, vegan monk bent on destroying the world to prove his religious deity aspirations.

But if that doesn't sound like your cup of tea (or vodka, in Travis' case), then part of Lord Vishnu's draw is that it's set (mostly) in Dallas. Lakewood Country Club, Tokalon Drive, Legal Grounds coffee shop, Eatzi's, Texas Stadium, Highland Park United Methodist, Stanley Korshak, Crescent Court and Highland Park Village all make appearances during Travis' crazy trip, plus there are veiled references to the former Forbidden Books location in Expo Park, Kalachandji's restaurant and the Hotel Santa Fe (pre-fancy remodeling into Hotel Palomar and Residences). And it's not a flattering portrayal: "Zombies with trendy hair cuts. A bunch of Banana Republicans on Prozac and cocaine. We're all hiding in this alphabet soup of status. Our IPOs. Our BMWs. Our Starbucks CDs. Our kids' high IQs."

Along with some cutting remarks about the upwardly mobile folks who look down their noses at us at Whole Foods, Clarke combines religious beliefs and iconography from several belief systems with modern popular culture, creepy costumed Disney characters, society's outcasts and the irony of "the good life" in a trippy tale reminiscent of Douglas Coupland's All Families Are Psychotic or Tom Robbins' Another Roadside Attraction.

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Shannon Sutlief