As the novel opens, Billy, after viewing a show of Velázquez paintings, is so humbled and awed by their spiritual power that he suffers an emotional breakdown and withdraws to his Chelsea loft. In seclusion, Billy searches for the divine spark in his own work and life.
Carroll's novel moves back and forth in time to present emblematic moments from Billy's life (his Irish Catholic upbringing, his teenage escapades, his evolution as an artist and meteoric rise to fame) and sharply etched portraits of the characters who mattered most to him, including his childhood friend Denny MacAbee, now a famous rock musician; his mentor, the unforgettable art dealer Max Bernbaum; and one extraordinary black bird.
Marked by Carroll's sharp wit, hallucinatory imagery, and street-smart style, The Petting Zoo is a frank, haunting examination of one artist's personal and professional struggles.
My Take: I haven't read Carroll's pièce de résistance, his memoir The Basketball Diaries(first published in 1978 and adapted to film in 1995). Carroll first started reading from The Petting Zoo in 1991 (this will be his first novel) and it will finally see the light of day in November 2010. For more info about Carroll check out his L.A. Times obit.
After reading about another (overly) tortured artist in Shadow Tag, I'm not sure how sympathetic I am to the troubled nuances of the creative process, however, Carroll was supposedly blessed with the ability to render prose that could make angels weep. That and this great cover have definitely piqued my interest.