A funny, beautifully written book. But aimed at who exactly? This man has piles and piles of talent, but the result (at least here) isn’t quite satisfying.
Michael Marshall is a wonderful, quotable writer. Here’s a snippet:
Janine was in position over [her desk], laminating something. Personally, had I been born and bred a Floridian, I might have made the effort not to be fat when I grew up. In this weather and humidity, it’s simply not the thinking person’s choice. Janine cleaved to some other vision, however, and when stuffed into bright blue stretch pants, her rear end was another thing that Karren and I were at one in finding less than supergreat and perfect.
That’s terrific, no? That’s his voice when he’s being funny and spiky and un-PC, but MM can also write in a way that’s just plain, regular excellent. The sort of thing which, if Ian McEwan wrote it, would have ’em drooling in the aisles of the TLS. Here, for example, is another bit from the end of the book – and just a straightforwardly excellent piece of writing:
It was back to just the two of us, naked in the world – and the weird thing was that it felt good. It felt like what I’d always wanted, back when I had an idea of who I really was and what I really wanted to be. You put one foot after another, one word after another, and it makes sense at the time – until one day you look up and find you’re lost in a future you don’t understand, someplace you never wanted to go and do not recognise … What do you do if you realise this has happened? Go back to the beginning and start again? It isn’t possible. Time flows but one way and all rivers make for the sea, and so we keep trudging on, writing our story-lives sentence by sentence, hoping that sooner or later we’ll be able to steer them back onto a track that we recognise. It never happens. We just die, and in death it becomes contextualised. Everything makes sense at the instant we close the book on ourselves.
Now I don’t know about you, but I love that. It seems to me that here is a writer writing with confidence, originality, voice and depth. Terrific stuff.
I also love the first-person character who’s speaking in these snippets (he’s also the star of this book). Bill Moore is a positive-thinking addicted, unattractive, ambitious Florida real estate guy. Over the course of the book – a book in which lots of bad things happen – he matures, grows wise, loses the things we don’t like about him. He’s a great character, well handled.
So I ought to like this book. No question, I think Michael Marshall is lavishly talented and has tons of potential. But … who exactly is this book for? There’s a lot of gore and killing, a crazy game being played out, plenty of bodies. But it’s though the author himself doesn’t quite take the body count seriously, so it’s hard for an atmosphere of darkness to build. On the other hand, it doesn’t feel light and playful and sunshiny because of the way that people tend to get splattered in it. It ends up being a weirdly uneasy mixture of violent and playful, gritty and fun.
Does that quite work? I’m not sure. I think not quite. I do recommend the book, as it happens, because this author is too good not to be aware of, but for me this is a stew which hasn’t yet found its balance. One to watch however. This guy has a LOT of ability.