Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe

This entry brought to you without hyphens and a distinct shortage of commas.

Free Live Free by Gene Wolfe is a book by Gene Wolfe in a continuing series of books by Gene Wolfe that I have been reading a lot of Gene Wolfe lately, haven’t I? I’m now reading a collection of short stories by Gene Wolfe called The Island of Doctor Death and Other Stories and Other Stories.

Free Live Free takes place in what was at the time of publication contemporary Chicago. Four down on their luck soldiers of fortune take up an advertisement on its offer, free living space. The soldiers of fortune include an extremely short and nearsighted unlicensed detective, a door to door joke salesman, a fat prostitute and Madame Serpentina. This book proceeds as a comedy of errors until the last ten pages or so when in typical Gene Wolfe fashion all the tumblers finally fall into place and a little door opens shedding bright light all over the place and making you squint your eyes a little bit because the light is so bright it hurts a little since you’ve been wandering around in the dark for so long that you forgot you were in the dark.

Ben Free’s house is condemned and the four tenants are enlisted to help defend it. They do a pretty good job for a couple of hours, but end up boot to backside and homeless. They sneak their way into a hotel and decide that the now disapparated Ben Free had dropped enough hints to indicate that he had some sort of treasure hidden in the house. The tenants bicker and bitch and eventually decide to go in together find the treasure and split it.

At this point the story intentionally frays into its component parts and you wonder what the hell happened to the plot. At one point all the threads come back together in an illusion of cohesion. Hilariously, all of the main characters and various supporting characters end up committed to Belmont Asylum when all they tried to do was go visit someone there. That part goes on for a while, but is so tongue in cheek and absurd that it doesn’t get old. Each person they run in to psychoanalyzes them and finds them irreparably insane even though they aren’t. Needless to say they end up taking over the asylum and then escape. Everything frays apart again and they each pursue their own particular heart’s desire. They get them, and find out that their heart’s are lacking.

I won’t spoil the ending.

Link of the day: For all my vegetarian friends and family: Vegetarian Beer List.