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by Jess Walter
Harper, September 2009
290 pages
ISBN: 0061916048

Buy in the UK | Buy in Canada

This novel begins in a convenience store, late at night, where the narrator waits in line behind some noisy teens. He pictures himself from the perspective of the South Asian man at the counter. "I'm just the middle-aged guy who leaves my gunmetal sedan running when I come in after midnight. When I can't sleep. And I've forgotten to get milk at the regular store. Milk for the kids' cereal." The milk costs nine dollars a gallon. This opening—after a short passage of poetry—sets up the theme of the book. Matt has run out of time, and it's costing him dearly. In seven days he will lose his house, and he hasn't told his wife about it yet. He hasn't told her because he suspects she's having an affair, tap-tapping on her computer keyboard night after night. He hasn't faced up to the problem himself. And he's at the end of his wits.

Which is why, when one of the teens offers him a toke on a really good joint, he's desperate enough to try one last, crazed attempt at postponing disaster. He decides to become a drug dealer, and he's just as inept at that as he was leaving his job as a business journalist to set up the dot com project that he has devoted his life and fortunes to: a website where visitors would get a mix of poetry and financial advice. This may sound impossibly weird, but he makes it plausible, and that's the point: our economy was fuelled by empty dreams and unrealistic expectations and Matt is in the middle of the fall of our economy, describing the sensation, moment by manic moment. It's a brilliant work of prose that captures the zeitgeist with daring, poetic, comical, and deeply touching verve.

Jess Walter, author of THE ZERO and CITIZEN VINCE among other novels, is a terrific writer who deserves a wider audience. In many ways, this book could have been written by Tim O'Brien, if he decided to chronicle the lives of embattled mortgage holders who have lost their heads and are trying to make sense of a world that no longer makes sense. Though this is fiction involving crime rather than a novel that follows the expectations readers may have of a mystery or thriller, it's proof that crime fiction, defined broadly, encompasses some of the best writing being published today.

§ Barbara Fister is an academic librarian, columnist, and author of the Anni Koskinen mystery series.

Reviewed by Barbara Fister, May 2010

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Contact: Yvonne Klein (ymk@reviewingtheevidence.com)

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