Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Coming straight out of Kansas

Because I am apparently a sap for marketing and other shiny objects, I gravitate towards new books. I am well aware of all the older books I have yet to read, but I still focus my attention on the new sections of the library and the bookstore. I really appreciate it when publishers reissue classic works that missed my attention the first time. So a hearty thanks to Picador for re-issuing the stellar Blackburn by Bradley Denton.

The story is a tragic tale of a creation of a monster, Blackburn, with whom the reader will find both sympathetic and repellent. Imagine a combination of Darkly Dreaming Dexter and Anton Chigurgh and you have Jimmy Blackburn. He starts life as a kind hearted boy in a small Kansas town who justs wants time to play with his family. His abusive father abuses him and schools him in the tools of violence. Unfortunately the other authority figures, including school and the law, destroy any chance that Blackburn will walk a legal line. Blackburn takes these lessons on the road where he identifies other liars, cheats and abusers and then kills them.

While the story is ultimately sad it also produces quite a few guffaws. Half of the chapters are titled with a victim number. In these stories, some terribly (or sometimes mildly) wicked person crosses Blackburn's path and Blackburn, generally reluctantly, decides they have to die. It his skewed views and often poetic means of dispatch that lead to the black humor.

The other chapters tell the story of Blackburn's life and how he came to be who he is. You witness the kindness morphing into a kind of vengeance that a real life Batman might employ. Blackburn's code is fairly simple (hurting the weak= death) is sometimes tested by complications. At one point he asks the unknowing victim of one criminal what would be the result of a hypothetical crime and the victim hyperbolically answers "He should be shot." You should avoid hyperbole with Blackburn as demonstrated by his near immediate execution of the offender.

Denton plays with the reader a bit. At one point, Blackburn meets the author of a book about a killer with a moral code. The author is a misanthropic drunk who hates that people idolize his creation. This is a bit of a tweak on the nose for readers cheering on Blackburn, but Denton is not a cruel didact (like Michael Haneke can be) seeking to shame or convert the reader. This is a story about a youth crushed by authority figures.

The story of his life is a story of the decay of the American dream. In that it reminded me of Jack London's story of a wrecked youth, the Apostate. In both stories, circumstances difficult to address crush a boy and it has terrible effects on the family. This is the finest crime novel I have read in years.


Anonymous said...

Mmmmm....sounds dark and twisted and borderline disturbing. I can't wait to read it. Thanks!

Tripp said...

I think you could easily be put off. If it helps it reminded me of Shot in the Heart where you see the background of a killer, although Blackburn's victims are of a different sort.