by Jim Thompson
I’d like to give it a 4.5 in that I don’t think it’s perfect, but I gave Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me a (deserved) 4, and I liked this one a lot better, so a “non-favorite 5” it gets, one of my rarest categories. I read it in one sitting of three and a half hours, so it’s compelling to say the least.
Perhaps the main flaw of the book is that it’s essentially the same narrator as “Killer,” albeit more fleshed out and more consistent in tone. But the similarity in narrators and the similarity in the general plot outline (Psychotic protagonist in small southern town gets outed and attempts to kill his way back into the closet) beg the question of how well Thompson can do anything else. He did, however, execute the story much better the 2nd time around, creating a tighter plot, a more coherent protagonist, thematic profundity (with heavy religious, existential, and nihilistic allusions), social critique, and better writing, sometimes making it downright poetic. An example:
I looked at her, with her hair spilled out on the pillows and the warmth of her body warming mine. And I thought, god-dang, if this ain’t a heck of a way to be in bed with a pretty woman. The two of you arguing about murder, and threatening each other, when you’re supposed to be in love and you could be doing something pretty nice. And then I thought, well, maybe it ain’t so strange after all. Maybe it’s like this with most people, everyone doing pretty much the same thing except in a different way. And all the time they’re holding heaven in their hands. 148-9
The narrator’s voice is so authentic (much like Cormac McCarthy), it’s really a joy to be in such capable hands as a reader.
Humor is one more thing it has over “Killer,” and I actually can’t remember a novel that ever made me laugh out loud like this one. During a large percentage of Nick’s interactions, you as a reader are in on a hilarious (if sadistic) joke that he is playing on his unwitting acquaintances. Chuck Palahniuk would be a modern-day equivalent for this type of humor, or perhaps Saramago’s Blindness or Seeing (not really the same type as much as the same amount of humor, if that makes any sort of sense).
So all-in-all it’s really a delightful novel. I’d probably consider it a “favorite” if it had more of an emotional impact. Besides this lack of sentiment, it’s only hampered in that it’s sort of a 2nd attempt at the same story, and that it goes a little too far off the deep end in the finale. Thompson also exhibits the same tendency as “Killer” to over-explain at times, as he does for instance in Ch. 10, when Nick explains exactly how he baited Robert Lee into spreading gossip about a political rival, when you already understand exactly what happened just by reading the dialogue. It’s certainly a quibble, but I still think there’s one paragraph there whose absence would have made the book better.
A great read though, and I while I probably won’t deliberately seek out more of Thompson — just because I normally prefer weightier stuff than genre fare — I would definitely read more if it somehow fell into my lap. I would also recommend this specific one to any of my twisted friends. Not my straight ones though; they’d probably just be scared of me afterwards.