Yes, I have been reviewing a lot of books lately. But, remember my rules: I only review books that I love and am excited about. And, lately, I’ve read a bunch of books that I love and am excited about, thus: lots of reviews lately.
I guess I really need to do this but I wonder if it really matters: Chris Rhatigan, the author of the subject book of this week’s review, The Kind of Friends Who Murder Each Other, is a friend and colleague of mine. We work together as editors of the crime fiction zine All Due Respect (in fact, he gave me that job). Before I was a part of ADR he published two of my stories. He has been a big supporter of my writing. He looks great in a Nehru jacket and beads. I love him. (Oh, and I am hoping he will do a blurb for my upcoming novel and I am as of this writing waiting for him to read the thing and decide … hmmmmm.)
So, I guess my motives for praising Chris’ book could be called into question. But, jeez, who cares? I read books by a lot of people who I like and work with that I don’t review, right? So get the fuck over it.
Moving on. This is a little tiny book (yes, I actually got the print version rather than Kindle because I was too lazy to try to figure out how to get the free electronic version on Smashwords and I’m glad I did). It is really cute, too. It is only about six inches long and maybe three inches across. It is 96 pages (the book starts on page seven). It’s one of those little books held together by glue and stitching. The cover is slick and it feels good in one’s hands. The front image is pretty and cleverly reflects the words inside, which is always good.
Chris describes the novella as “weird crime.” I don’t really understand that. To me it is just a regular noir crime novel. It might be the bleakest, most negative, most nihilistic noir crime book ever written. It is definitely the bleakest, most negative, most nihilistic noir crime book I’ve ever read.
Let me tell you something about me and my reading tastes. The bleaker the fiction I am reading is, the more empty and awful the story and the writing make the world look—the happier I am. Reading The Kinds of Friends Who Murder Each Other made me giddy with pleasure. The most horrible things would happen and/or Rhatigan’s narrator would say something completely depressing about the world and I would laugh out loud. I’m serious. I love that kind of thing. Don’t know why it makes me so happy, but it does.
The narrator/main character works at a place called The Pump and Munch, a 7-11 gas station kind of place. He bowls once a week with a couple of other guys who used to work there too.. He doesn’t really like the guys and he doesn’t really like bowling. He hates his job. He hates his boss. He hates his apartment and his neighborhood. He hates the cigarettes he smokes all day long.
Horrible things are said in the first couple of pages by the three friends; horrible confessions. Then, they all do horrible things to each other and other people until there is almost no one left. And, what is great, at the end, the whole thing starts all over again, in the same exact spot where it all began. Just like life.
I love how Rhatigan only uses the words and sentences necessary to tell his perfect little story. I love it that we know nothing about where the book takes place and that we know nothing about the backgrounds of any of the characters, especially the main character. Who needs all that detail, right?
But, I especially love the way the narrator describes the world he sees: it is ugly, greedy, empty, unkind, and there is no point to anything. This point of view is kept consistent throughout. Like I said earlier, I like that.
Check this out:
The waitress might as well have been a zombie, she had checked out so long ago, now she wandered among the living, dust accumulating in her skull, she lived to leave her job at the end of the shift, but why, what could she possibly do after work, how could she find any satisfaction.
Blue digits on the microwave said it was six-thirty-one, early but not exactly as early as I thought, but it never was, time perpetually grinding me under its fist.
I also love this little aside:
She poured a refill for Mackey, who licked his fingers. “Thank you, Linda.” She grunted, he returned to stuffing food in his face, I inspected a large thumbprint on the window, they say that every fingerprint is different but they’re actually all the same.
Oh and how about this:
People came in for lottery tickets all afternoon, one after another, traded paper that had worth for paper with no worth, took it all very fucking seriously, played specific numbers, their daughter’s hairdresser’s dog’s birthday or the bar code on their favorite vibrator. I laughed at each and every one of them—with John in the office I figured I had carte blanche. Later I took a Leg Show off the rack, ripped off the plastic and started flipping through, no idea how these magazines still existed, had people not heard of the internet? Must be a lot of old horny people out there, they must be the ones who buy this shit, but we never sold it.
See, right? Get this book.
I recommended the print version.