amandafrench, February 17, 2008 (view all comments by amandafrench)
Went to a reading last weekend and was super-impressed by John Brandon. This is how much: his reading from his novel made me really want to find out what happened, and yet I didn't buy the book in the store. Why? Because I wanted to make sure that there were enough copies for everyone else! I knew that one way or another I was gonna buy the book, and they were making noises at the reading about maybe running out of copies, and I didn't want to derail anyone else's impulse buy.
Well, I bought the book yesterday and read it today, and it's really the best-crafted book I've read in ages, maybe since Dogs of Babel. It's kind of a cross between Pulp Fiction and The Stranger, or Elmore Leonard meets Ernest Hemingway, if you can imagine that -- a very tersely narrated book about a few guys who drift along until they become criminals. There's enough plot to keep things interesting, definitely a little suspense and a couple surprises, but on the whole this is a book about what it's like to be without proper purpose, the texture of that, the recognition of that, and yet the inexorability of action and effect.
Beautiful prose. All rock bands will henceforth be "noisome quartets" to me.
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"Publishers Weekly Review"
by Publishers Weekly,
"Brandon introduces his main characters gradually in his quirky debut about a bunch of rootless drifters who form an unstable drug-distribution network in Arkansas: Swin Ruiz, who pulls his first scam before dropping out of college; Kyle Ribb, a shoplifter who stumbles on a job as a courier; and mysterious Ken Hovan (aka 'Froggy' or 'Frog'), who begins with bootleg tapes but graduates to run the shadowy organization. Tangential characters include a middleman, Pat Bright, who oversees Swin and Ruiz in their nebulous and phony cover jobs in a state park, and a black woman known only as 'Her,' who passes packets and instructions to the couriers. As Swin and Kyle try to puzzle out how to survive in a crumbling organization, their futile attempts to create some semblance of a normal life evoke only pathos. Not evil as such, these unsympathetic people simply fall into a rut that leads inevitably to violence and death." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
Arkansas is a biting first novel full of wet T-shirt contests, illicit drugs, and cross-country road trips. There are the days: the dappled grounds, the aimless yardwork, the hours in the booth giving directions to families in SUVs. And then there are the nights: crisscrossing the South with illicit goods, the shifty deals in dingy trailers, the vague orders from a boss they've never met. Before Kyle and Swin can recognize how close to paradise they are in this neglected state park in southern Arkansas, the lazy peace is shattered with a shot. Night blends into day. Dead bodies. Crooked superiors. Suspicious associates. It's on-the-job training, with no time for slow learning, bad judgment, or foul luck.
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