A Novel

Redbat Books/Pacific Northwest Writers Series

LA GRANDE, OR:  We all carry the ghost of Vietnam. It lives in the American psyche. Vietnam doesn’t haunt only our soldiers, it is woven into the fabric of a nation. In Canned Tuna, two different characters, each in their own time, encounter the ghost of war. Both their lives are changed by something they see but cannot share. In the gulf between their two worlds lives a stark contrast between 1963 and 1969, between the ghost that threatens and the ghost that saves.

Nicolasa Bilbao sustains a serious head injury when his jeep hits a landmine. He is medically discharged. Back home in Boise in 1969, his head injury invites him into therapy at a V.A. clinic. The leader of his therapy group is an ex-Marine named Doc and they plan a hit on the governor. The unplanned outcome of their harmless guerrilla theater causes the group to fracture into factions, lining up behind different ideas of revolution.

Milo Simonson’s late-adolescent blooming is put on hold by an inexpressible dread. The world around him is breaking down. A dark storm has stalled off the Oregon coast. His home town is experiencing some kind of time slip at the mouth of the Columbia River in 1963. His fragile reality brings him into an uneasy relationship with a mystery resurrected from a watery grave.


How are they connected?

Memmott stumbles into the ineffable in Canned Tuna.  Through dark openings in the armor of his characters, he reimagines his ghosts until they become familiar. In the hope that one day he can learn to talk to them without fear. “We are all victims of some trauma, refugees from somewhere, touched by some form of violence,” he says, “We choose to suffer the greater/lesser ghosts of human imagination in our stories not because they are reality, but because they are removed from reality.” 


The novel’s tone is comic and exaggerated. His characters are part of a dream that awakens through tragedy. They represent real people who never thought of themselves as real. Their degrees of flaw give them character. “All my characters are composites, pieced together like Frankenstein. I don’t fully control them, but I do have a lot of influence in making the way hard for them. That’s why I write, to make the way hard for my characters.”

"Memmott's book is a fullblown fantasy, a weird roadtrip through a cosmically shattered landscape that summons up comparisons to Bruce McAllister's classic, Dream Baby. -- Paul DiFilippo, "On Books," Asimov's SF Magazine (July-August, 2018). Read full review

"Apocalyptic happenings mesh with fantastic, gritty realities, in the war, working class America, and the counter culture without any sci-fi explanation. One of the best novels about the period I've ever read. It does for Vietnam what Slaughterhouse Five did for World War Two." -- Ernest Hogan  



They gather this day, your neighbors,

to bless the hunt,

to consecrate the traps,

make stronger the chains,

thicker the walls between us.


In a world no more than man

mere man becomes a beast

who runs through the streets

wild nature looking for a reason,

following a dream that slays

the earth inch by inch

and sinks like a stone

into still water.

My rheumy eyes smolder

in the dark. Should their light find me here,

the good folk will call their dogs.

I upset the balance.

What’s down there should never come up.

What’s up here will never go down voluntarily.

The noise sometimes hurts my ears,

drives me from the den

out of my body.

I am the beast unmade by man,

sadly dreaming, lost in the margins

where bad blood congeals

in hearts hardened by degrees.

Once released to drink the moon

I cannot be called back.

In every encounter

where mere man the beast

leaves more than man

flayed for a bounty,

our territory violated

for another boom and bust,

only disorder can follow.

They know this.

They cannot stand for long

on failing foundations.

Shining even a weak beam

into our homes catches us

blinking with blame.

You lie in cold sweat on a hot night

and hear me howling.

I’m the bedtime story that keeps you awake,

chasing little girls over the plains,

devouring grandmothers and assuming their shape.

I curl into a ball in a warm den,

warm in winter with fierce love,

tight in a ball in a space that cries

for fewer people

and more humanity.  

#297, digital painting, 24 X 30 
#443, digital painting,  24 X 30 


David Memmott's sense of place extends from his piece of ground in northeastern Oregon to the space-time continuum of the universe itself. By turns prophetic, polemical, sensual, and humorous, [he speaks] in stalwart witness to the outer and inner landscapes that he calls home."

-- John Daniel, author of The Far Corner and Of Earth: Poems


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