by Tom Kakonis
Kindle Edition, 304 pg.
Brash Books, 2014
Read: August 7 – 12, 2014
I really don’t like writing these kind of reviews. So let’s get this out of the way straight off: this was not a book written for me. Which doesn’t mean I couldn’t appreciate its strengths — and it certainly could’ve won me over (others I didn’t think were for me have), but it really didn’t. I certainly disliked it less by the end then I did at the beginning.
This is a book that’s very much a tale of two halves. In the first half we get introduced to several characters, all of whom (with one possible exception) are very unsympathetic, and there’s really only one of which I had any hope of becoming a tolerable character by the end of the book. It was a slog to get through, and I really had to force myself. It was a large number of ugly people doing ugly things to other ugly people. But aside from one excessive beating, the ugly things were pretty small — and all just to establish character (and lack thereof). It’s just about 150 pages of setup.
The second half contained most of these characters, though three of them vanished for all intents and purposes; but it moved faster — there was a point to the action, for that matter, there was action. Where the first half could be seen as potential energy, the second half was all kinetic. Sometimes that kind of book can work well — but you run a risk in putting all your eggs in the second half. It’s too easy to just walk away unless that hook is set well at the beginning. And Kakonis didn’t really accomplish that. The characters start interacting, the storylines overlap and intertwine. And all the “best-laid schemes o’ mice an’ men” get busy fulfilling “Gang aft agley / An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain, / For promis’d joy!”
While the first half was all set up — it set up a handful of characters and associated storylines that are just abandoned in the second. I didn’t understand that. Why spend extra time putting up dominoes that you don’t intend to knock over?
Ignoring the story problems, the language the novel was told in was deplorable. Orwell said, “Never use a foreign phrase, a scientific word, or a jargon word if you can think of an everyday English equivalent,” Twain put it more succinctly, “Don’t use a five-dollar word when a fifty-cent word will do.” If they’d read Kakonis, Orwell would’ve included “obscure slang” — thankfully, with maybe one or two minor exceptions were decipherable with context clues, but I had a hard time believing that most of these characters would have so large and varied a vocabulary. But beyond the general slang, was the vulgarity and ugly racism — I learned at least one new derogatory epithet for the police, a couple for females/female genitalia, and was reminded of a couple for Hispanics. Sure, I understand, that these characters were by and large uneducated, lower class, and criminals — not the type that you’re supposed to want to emulate in word choice. But this was just horrible, wretched. A real block to my enjoying — even tolerating — huge passages from the book. It seems to me that Kakonis was inspired by Elmore Leonard in the structure, tone and subject for this book. And Leonard wasn’t afraid to have racial/sexual epithets come out of his characters. But for him, it worked, they never came across as vile, just human.
So, yeah. Not for me — but I can see where some people might enjoy it. If the product description appeals to you, give it a shot. Hopefully it works better for you than it did for me.