Saturday, September 29, 2007

Review of Slide

Slide (Hard Case Crime, 2007) is slick. With the follow up to last year’s Bust, Ken Bruen and Jason Starr have raised the bar. Bust, which introduced spineless businessman Max Fisher and his shallow squeeze Angela Petrarkos, was a black comedy of errors; noir with a grin. The sequel is comic, but it’s not just slapstick. It’s satire.

The latest installment in the planned trilogy follows Max, who is busy reinventing himself after losing everything, and Angela, who is busy in Ireland, trying to find a man to take care of her. Max reinvents himself as a drug dealer, and Angela, as is her custom, takes up with Slide, an aspiring serial killer, who’s having some trouble with the kidnapping business because he lacks the self-control necessary to not kill the victim before he gets paid. The novel is written in a breezy, casual tone, and there are plenty of laughs. After Slide and Angela hook up, he concocts a half-assed plan to kidnap…wait for it…Keith Richards. He doesn’t get Keith, but he does get someone else most readers will recognize. Another familar figure has a run in with Slide later in the book, and anyone who doesn’t laugh at these scenes probably has a sense of humor that runs to knock-knock jokes. Still, amusing as it is, the Slide and Angela storyline is not as compelling as Max’s story. He steals the show.

begins with Max Fisher at rock bottom. He wakes up after a world class drunk in a hotel in Alabama, with no money and no idea how he got there. This does not discourage Max, a self made man, who used to have it all. In no time, he has struck up relationship with Kyle, the dull witted desk clerk with a crack habit. In true entrepreneurial fashion, Max sees an opportunity, and he goes from penniless drunk to high living crack dealer in no time flat. Max Fisher is no more self aware than a cockroach, and, like a roach, he refuses to die. A legend in his own mind, Max, who starts calling himself “The M.A.X.”, is certain he is a celebrity. Fueled by coke, he daydreams about writing a column for The Wall Street Journal and having his own HBO series. His occasional glimmers of insight into the true nature of his situation are brief, and they always fade just as quickly as they arrive. Nothing can shake his relentless, delusional optimism. Max Fisher is an ugly American. He is a testament to economic opportunity and a cautionary tale at the same time. In that respect, he’s exactly like Donald Trump.

The authors’ aim, however, is not to make a point. They are out to have fun. Max was not created to make the reader contemplate the evils of capitalism or the insidious distortion of values that celebrity culture produces. Bruen and Starr set out to see how far they could push a stereotype. Max’s story not only satirizes American culture, it also satirizes noir. In noir, a character is usually undone by his desire. He wants money. He wants the woman. He wants peace of mind. When a noir character goes after those things, breaking society’s rules in the process, he is destroyed. In that sense, noir is a very conservative genre. The protagonist must suffer for his misdeeds. Not so with Max. He is greedy, gluttonous, slothful, lustful, prideful, wrathful and envious, and he still he slides by. People die because of his actions and he feels nothing. His existence a testament to the absurdity of the idea of justice.

When Max is hustled into a cop car, headed for a jail cell, he contemplates giving the cops a lock of his hair to sell on Ebay. Prison’s going to be great for his career, he thinks. He’s driven away with a grin on his face. He’s grinning at you, dear reader, because the joke is on you, and it’s pretty fucking funny.

1 comment:

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

Great review of a helluva fun book. I love those two scenes where the writers get whacked. Can't wait for THE MAX.