Muller can’t get a stiffy. That shouldn’t be a problem for protagonist Sam Bennett, but it is, because Sam’s wife wants a grandchild. And Sam’s daughter is married to Muller, a talented hypochondriac and flabby Renaissance man, Sam’s foil with a killer recipe for pot brownies who can’t, for the life of him, get a stiffy. Except when he’s got Ruby on his mind.
With little more plot than that Robert Bruce Cormack’s You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive) is a picaro’s tale with dialogue miscues straight out of Catch-22 and an unsung genius—Muller—who might have wandered in from A Confederacy of Dunces. Cormack’s story centers on Sam’s reintegration into a world that’s passed him by during 30 years writing advertising copy and which, to his understandable dismay, requires that he coach his live-in son-in-law on working up a stiffy while simultaneously wanting to choke him dead for coveting another man’s wife.
After being let go Sam finds himself smoking weed in the agency’s Men’s room with Max the security boy, a relationship he parlays into a job painting houses. Queue the circus music when Sam, Muller, and Max join Max’s father Otis and mother Ruby (get the book to read about their particular infidelities) in The Rec Room of Sound, Otis’s Internet radio broadcast, to consume pot-laced brownies and interview Bisquick the Mynah bird best known for biting nipples and repeating the phrase “Gimme some titty action”.
As the narrative careers from such inconsequential silliness to further inconsequential silliness, threatening to implode with all lack of import, it reveals—if not examines—our present state of communication and entertainment. How pathetic that an independent online radio program called Otis Cries for You can be a hit with thousands, that we might therefore get our emotions watered by watching Dr. Phil and Oprah.
It’s a funny life outside of work, all the more so because for 30 years Sam paid no attention to the world outside his office. We don’t know Sam’s life before he gets shitcanned, and we don’t know what kind of friends he had as a working stiff. His afterlife, on the other hand, is filled with a rich cast of clowns that end up defining the book as a book about friendship. “You should be thankful,” Dr. Krupsky tells Sam, “A man with friends is rich. Have you ever counted them?” It turns out that for all his straight-laced stoicism Sam is living in a post-career world filled with new friends, friends with dazzling habits who get by in pursuit of their pleasures, like his pot-growing next door neighbor Riley and Riley’s skinny-dipping daughters.
The central friendship, though, remains that between Sam and Muller. Unlikely as it is, Sam actually grows close to his son-in-law. See Sam and Muller sipping whiskey on the porch:
Muller sips and sighs like a buffalo. ‘I don’t know what Judy wants anymore.’ ‘I thought she wanted kids.’ ‘I can’t even get a stiffy.’ ‘I didn’t need to hear that… you’re talking to your father-in-law here.’ ‘I just don’t know what to do, Sam. Judy finds fault with everything these days. She even pulled out all my pot plants before we left. Why would she do that?’ ‘Women don’t want distractions. They want babies.’ ‘But grass makes me horny.’ ‘Cut it out, for chrissake. That’s my daughter you’re talking about. I don’t need to know about your sex life. Especially stiffies.’
If Zack Galifianakus doesn’t get to push a Lucky Dogs cart around New Orleans as Ignatius J. Reilly in a screen version of Confederacy, he might do just as well playing Muller in a Hollywood picaresque cut from You Can Lead a Horse to Water.
You Can Lead a Horse to Water (But You Can’t Make It Scuba Dive)
By Robert Bruce Cormack
Yucca Publishing, October 2014
Reviewed by Ben East