Saturday, April 30, 2016
Review: "Arkansas" by John Brandon
When one of the more interesting aspects of a reading experiences is counting the number of grammatical and syntactical flubs on the page (to be fair, there were a few that were quite glaring to me, but they didn’t affect the book’s quality, or lack thereof), you know that the book your reading is not very good. John Brandon’s first novel Arkansas, feels like the novelization of one of those poor mid-90’s rip offs of Pulp Fiction, where over the top violence and lazily disjointed narrative structure cover up, or attempt to cover up for the lack of heart and creativity at the center of the story. It tries to be original by using a strange device that I will describe later, but it can’t hide the fact this book is simply a rather lousy version of a story I have seen done much better in other novel, such as Willy Vlautin’s The Motel Life and David Joy’s Where All Light Tends to Go, to name a few. The three main characters, Swin, a college dropout with a history of disciplinary problems, Kyle, a young man who seems drawn to a life of crime on the surface, lacks a killer instinct, and Johanna, the one-dimensional token woman in all of these stories. Spliced in between their story of who they get tangled up in murder are mysterious vignettes, told in second person, about a figures rise through the ranks of the backwoods crime world. These have a strange intimate quality to them, even when blood starts to flow. But all that can’t make up for what an absolute dud this story turned into as it unfolded, from its poor characters and dialogue to its rather unhappy ending, if you like stories of this ilk, there are much better places to start.