Gary Garth McCann


Author of the novel The Man Who Asked To Be Killed and five stories, most recently “Incorrigible,” Erotic Review and “The Yearbook,” Mobius


I often read two or three novels at once. Reading Percy’s The Moviegoer and Albo’s Hornito, I read a passage and thought I’d picked up one book rather than the other. Both present a young man chasing sex and the meaning of life while also interacting with his elders and friends and working in an office and revisiting his childhood. When I finished both books, I noticed that many passages I’d marked in each could fit either, to some extent. Which left me struck by the similarity of the quest of the protagonists, although really quite different men.

Can you tell which of the quotes below belong together? The answers are at the bottom of this post, as is a little more information about the protagonists.

First, here’s the passage I read and thought was from one book when it was from the other:

(1) “I live here now. I know no other home. I have become a part of the putty-colored cubicle walls. I am one with the printer hum, the framed collages of pastel colors and circles, the soft timbre of multiple phone lines. I know Joyce’s ankle-high commuter pom-pom socks, I can quickly spot misplaced Wite-Outs and stray butterfly clips in the dark carpet, I know people by the sound of their far-off footfalls, like the clomps of Clyde the night shift janitor and the periodic klonks of his plastic bins.”

Here are other passages I marked (out of general interest) as I read:

(2) “I…shift about on the library steps…A rumble has commenced in my descending bowel, heralding a tremendous defecation. Nell goes on talking and there is nothing to do but shift around as best one can, take care not to fart, and watch her in a general sort of way: a forty-year-old woman with a good open American face and another forty years left in her; and eager, above all, eager, with that plaintive lost eagerness American college women get at a certain age.”

(3) “My…teacher, Mrs. Moore, doesn’t like me. I think it’s because I am quiet, frightened, dutiful, and unpopular. There are many teachers in sixth grade who, like Mrs. Moore, love only the popular kids. Mrs. Moore’s bright fake face is a simple mocking mouthpiece of the Board of Ed.-approved curriculum, and behind her quiz grades and lesson plans and extra credits is the popularity hierarchy—a much more complex, insidious, impenetrable grading system, with levels and rewards, that in sixth grade is taking shape like an unknown virus, a hierarchy that Mrs. Moore secretly encourages with her smile.”

(4) “…don’t quite know what we’re doing on this insignificant cinder spinning away in a dark corner of the universe. That is a secret which the high gods have not confided in me. Yet one thing I believe and I believe it with every fiber of my being. A man must live by his lights and do what little he can and do it as best he can. In this world goodness is destined to be defeated. But a man must go down fighting. That is the victory. To do anything less is to be less than a man.”

(5) “She smells exactly as you would expect—contained potpourri breezes and baby powder elbows.”

(6) “If I am tripped in the halls, my books skating across the dry hall like hockey pucks, it is God. If I am masturbating in the bathroom and suddenly flash to the sickening image of Frau Freund’s fat ass, it is God. These are the tools of God. I understand now that experience is part of a larger tablet of God’s laws. God is here and He is very insane.”

(7) “There I lay in my hotel room with my search over yet still obliged to draw one breath and then the next. But now I have undertaken a different kind of search, a horizontal search. As a consequence, what takes place in my room is less important. What is important is what I shall find when I leave my room and wander in the neighborhood. Before, I wandered as a diversion. Now I wander seriously and sit and read as a diversion.”

(8) “I am furiously trying to make up your past. Here…in my small, small room, window to an alley, to other people’s music, and flickering televisions, you are changing and I want to anchor you, get you down to one manageable conglobated mass of made-up details.”

(9) “We swim and lie down together. The remarkable discovery forces itself upon me that I do not love her so wildly as I loved her last night. But at least there is no malaise and we lie drowsing in the sun, hands clasped in the other’s.”

(10) “It is not a bad thing to settle for the Little Way, not the big search for the big happiness but the sad little happiness of drinks and kisses, a good little car and a warm deep thigh.”

(11) “My mother speaks of such matters in a light allusive way, with the overtones neither of belief nor disbelief but rather of a general receptivity to lore.”

(12) “He is strong, busy, laughs loudly, and has a hard paunch and Popeye forearms. He doesn’t need glasses, jogs every morning, and trumpets out “Jesus H. Christ” when he’s mad.”

(13) “Sometimes when she mentions God, it strikes me that my mother uses him as but one of the devices that come to hand in an outrageous man’s world, to be put to work like all the rest in the one enterprise she has any use for: the canny management of the shocks of life. It is a bargain struck at the very beginning in which she settled for a general belittlement of everything, the good and the bad. She is as wary of good fortune as she is immured against the bad, and sometimes I seem to catch sight of it in her eyes, this radical mistrust: an old knowledgeable gleam, as old and sly as Eve herself.”

(14) “Why am I preparing for age like a congenital disease? I even have visions of it. I can look at my friends and see them as old. The skin pulls down over the terrain of their faces, and their Lite-Brite eyes tuck into their sockets, and their flesh hangs like wet fabric and I become sad.”

(15) “She thinks I am a nice fellow…[G]irls won’t put out until you prove to them what a nice unselfish fellow you are, a lover of children and dogs. She holds my hand on her knee and gives it a squeeze from time to time.”

(16) “There is only one thing I can do: listen to people, see how they stick themselves into the world, hand them along a ways in their dark journey and be handed along, and for good and selfish reasons.”

The Moviegoer protagonist lives in the 1950s and is heterosexual, the Hornito protagonist lives in the ’90s and is homosexual. Of course, the “printer hum” in the first quote should have instantly told me I was in Hornito. The other answers are (2) M, (3) H, (4) M, (5) H, (6) H, (7) M, (8) H, (9) M, (10) M, (11) M, (12) H, (13) M, (14) H, (15) M, (16) M


About Gary McCann

Gary Garth McCann

Read a review of Gary Garth McCann’s legal thriller The Man Who Asked To Be Killed at the Washington Independent Review of Books. The most recent two of his five published stories are available online at and He has been honored by first prizes for short works and for suspense/mystery, Maryland Writers’ Association. See his blogs, Writer Gary Garth McCann and Streamliner Memories .