Okay, this is my first official book review. Turns out I have the same criteria as Mr. Beetner, over at 60-Second Book Reviews: I am only going to review books that I really like or love. Here are my rules for what makes a good book:
1. The book can never be boring.
2. The book has to be fun to read.
3. The book has to be original and unique in some way.
4. The book has to make me care about something.
Just Like That by Les Edgerton passes the test.
Oh man, does it ever. I’ve read a lot of really great novels and novellas in the last six months – Piggyback by Tom Pitts, Dig Two Graves and The Devil Doesn’t Want Me by Beetner, Hell On Church Street and the Posthumous Man by Jake Hinkson, some so far unpublished books by Pitts and Joe Clifford, Candy and Cigarettes by CS DeWildt, Subtle Art of Brutality by Ryan Salyes, Bona Fide Jobs by Greg Barth, Robbers by Christopher Cook, The Wrong Man, by William Inglsy, Nic Pizzolatto’s Galveston, Scott Phillips’ The Ice Harvest, Heartland Gothic by Kevin Lynn Helmick, and Brian Panowhich’s Theo and Fat Terry.
Yes, it’s been a good run for an avid reader like me, and all of the books in that last paragraph met my four rules, no problem, and I want to write about many of them in the coming months.
Now, Just Like That struck me in a way I’m not used to when I read, even when I’m reading something great. It brought me into a world that I was always curious about, fascinated about, but could never really see; never really know – as an outsider. Just Like That is the daily life of the Outlaw, the Criminal, the Hustler, and the Convict: the people who look at most of the rest of us a straights or civilians.
I’ve been on the periphery of such people and such a life off and on through various associations via siblings, parents, jobs, co-workers, friends, friends of friends, wives, girlfriends, and, you know, just travelling around a bit and being a fuck-up. I’ve caught a glimpse of the life of the outlaw, but was never a part of it of course, never wanted to be a part of it, but was always fascinated and curious. Which is why, I bet, I like crime and noir fiction and movies so much. Duh.
Edgerton is an ex-con. He is also a former criminal. He lived that life for a long time and Just Like That is a detailed, fictional account of what it is like to live that life. The story isn’t romantic, or cool. There are no heroes, there are no good guys and there is no nobility anywhere – except, maybe, in the fierce loyalty that can occur between partners or pards, but, that, sadly, doesn’t always last.
Horrible things happen constantly. Prison guards are cruel, convicts rape other convicts, and the police are dumb and unfeeling and everyone is a racist to some degree. Parents and spouses are abusive both physically and sexually in this world – just like all over the straight world of course – but it seems more accepted, more normal in the world of Just Like That.
So what is it like to get out of prison, know that you are a criminal, and still be very young and full of aggression and desire and anger and lacking almost completely in impulse control? What do you do? What is your daily life like? Just Like That answers that question. Edgerton’s main character is just that sort of person and what he does is follow his impulses and wander all over the Midwest and the south, sometimes working, sometimes robbing, almost always drunk, and almost always getting into fights and dangerous situations and getting in and out of bed with a huge variety of women met along the way.
So, you might ask – isn’t that just like all the other crime novels you just mentioned? It’s just another novel about criminals, right? How is Just Like That any different? Okay, jeez, I’ll tell you. Just Like That isn’t a crime novel. That is right. It is a novel, and there is a lot of crime and a lot of criminals, but, no, it isn’t a crime novel.
Crime novels are plot driven; they are stories about heists, getaways, revenge, etc. Right? Just Like That (while again, it includes heists and getaways and a LOT of revenge) is an episodic, fictionalized autobiography. It is a guy telling the reader what it was like to be him for a distinct period of time. It is very conversational and, often, instructive. It is the guy who has freaking been there telling us how it really was. See what I mean? Edgerton will be telling a story and then stop for page after fascinating page to explain to the reader some basic truth, some way or another the media or Hollywood gets it all wrong about prison, the police, or the outlaw life. Novels rarely do that. (Note: I just finished The Bitch, also by Edgerton and that is a crime novel and it is one dark, fucked up crime novel. I mean, just the worst things happen. It’s so great.)
I don’t want to keep this up and give too much away. Just read this book. If you do you will see real life depicted with great language and no bullshit, ever. Okay?