Thursday, March 24, 2016
Review: "Shaker" by Scott Frank
I feel it is the sign of a good reader when you can seamlessly switch not only between what you read genre-wise, but style wise as well. That I can go from a book as deeply introspective as Ben Lerner’s Leaving the Atocha Station to something as propulsive as Scott Frank’s debut novel Shaker makes me feel like I am on the right track. It has been quite a long while since I have read something as purely exciting as this novel, which is very reminiscent, mainly in the setting of Ryan Gattis’ bloody masterpiece All Involved. I was drawn to this book by the reputation of its author, who is a famous Hollywood screenwriter, popular for such varied work as Get Shorty and Marley and Me and for directing two of my favorite movies, 2007’s The Lookout and 2014’s A Walk Among the Tombstones, which was one of the year’s most underrated movies. His resume, along with a really interesting premise for his first novel, it had no problem sucking me in, and boy did it deliver the goods I was hoping for. Over the course of 335 pages, Frank tells a story filled with intrigue, menace, violence, a surprising amount of complexity, and even a few sure signs of the end of the world as all of the book’s events occur after a series of cataclysmic earthquakes nearly destroy this fictional version of Los Angles. Into this mess comes Roy Cooper, an unassuming, milquetoast man who also happens to be an assassin for hire in Los Angles for a job. He completes the job, in very gentlemanly fashion, only to find himself in the middle of what appears to be a simple case of assault and robbery. The perpetrators, however, are a murderous local gang of black kids, and the victim, is a candidate for mayor. Roy is seriously injured while the victim is killed. The whole thing is caught on a cell phone video, and Roy is labeled a kind of hero by the public. His case draws in a number of different people, like Science, the one who pulled the trigger, a smart kid pulled into a life of brutality, who sees a twisted path to fame in finishing the job, Kelly Maguire, a shamed detective on the case whose stubbornness hides the book’s only moral center, Miguel Santiago, a mayor who is surprised by the accusations thrown at him after the death of his opponent, and Albert Budin, Roy’s cruel mentor, who is looking for revenge. There isn’t a lot to really unearth here contextually. It is just a really entertaining and disturbing romp that had me as hooked as I have been in a while. From the moments in Roy’s sad childhood, this included abuse, parental betrayal, and finally, his baptism into a world of violence by Albert at a dreary juvenile prison, to a scene where Science and his friends sexually assault a naïve white girl trying to help them, this book feels like a snapshot of a broken world, one with very little in the way of true redemption, yet with pockets of hope, like its haunting ending, in unexpected places.