Rodes Fishburne’s Going to See the Elephant was published in 2008 by Delacorte Press. This is Fishburne’s first novel. The explanation for the title of the book can be found in the end notes: “Going to see the elephant” is an old expression describing someone who heads off to seek their fame and fortune.
Slater Brown arrives in San Francisco with few clothes and a 250-pound trunk of books. His dream is to find the perfect story and to become a great writer. Slater struggles at first as he loses money and lacks inspiration.
He finds a job at a third-rate newspaper called The Morning Trumpet. His editor challenges him to write a great story. To prompt ideas, Slater enlists of the help of a mystic named Answer Man. He also begins to find his stories because of his landlady. She gives him a transistor radio, and he unexpectedly picks up the city’s phone conversations. Slater becomes a local celebrity and the failing newspaper is saved. The mayor is unhappy about Slater’s success, in part because Slater’s stories have been exposing the mayor. After the story is released, the mayor responds with an eating binge and tremendous weight gain—to the comic delight of readers.
Another character in the story is Milo Magnet, an inventor who is focused obsessively with the weather. He develops a computer that can make weather, which he uses over San Francisco. Slater’s reporting skills also apply here in covering this story. The weather-changing story may be the best scoop that Slater ever gets.
Reviewers admire Going to See the Elephant for the well-crafted characters and the pacing. Fishburne displays a talent for humor as well as a well-composed line. Slater Brown relates to his readers because of his challenges to meet his dreams coupled with his need to survive. The quirky characters of Milo and Callio address the issues in their lives in a way that maintains the sympathies of readers. Other critics criticize Fishburne for his developing characters with broad-strokes, as if they were caricatures. But some critics enjoy the retro-feel of the novel, including the disorienting sense that the characters and setting are straight from the 1940s. His first novel leaves most readers eagerly awaiting for his second effort.