New Pulp Press, 9780981557908
Nate Flexer's debut is a modern psycho noir in the tradition of Jim Thompson that is one of the first books to be published by New Pulp Press. It is the story of Frankie Avicious, a man whose life is on the skids, who finds himself listening to the advice of a mysterious travelling salesman and finally setting out to take from life what he rightfully believes to be his. From the very start, when we see Frankie at his job mercilessly killing cattle for his rich father in law, we know we're we're in for a gruesome and cold-hearted journey into the dark side of the American landscape.
As a manifesto for New Pulp Press, The Dissasembled Man is a fine example of the intent and attitude of this new small publisher. The novel is lean and mean - with the emphasis on mean - a true psycho-noir novel that leaves the reader to work out the truth behind events we can only see from the point of view of the protagonist. At Crime Scene Scotland, we have a weakness for unreliable narrators, and Frankie is one of the most unreliable you could hope for. There is a whole world going on just outside of his narrow vision and the reader has to figure out just how much of the world we are seeing through this man's eyes. The twist that comes maybe two thirds of the way through the book ups the stakes even more and those last few pages are a real mindbender. To say much more would be to spoil the ride, but this is the kind of book that you could find yourself arguing over how to interpret. And that's a damn good thing.
The only true problem with The Dissasembled Man comes from a few stumbles in the authorial voice. While Frankie is a decidedly unreliable narrator whose true nature comes to light through the unfolding of the narrative rather than through what he tells us, at times he seems to have these bursts of lyrical and near literary observations that come across unnatural given the set up of his general tone and demeanour. Whether these are meant to imply the gradual fracturing of his mind, or to hint the reader that all is not as it seems, I'm not sure. But they don't flow as naturally as one might expect, detracting from the burning pace of the narrative. Basically, whenever Frankie becomes too verbose for his own good, the spell is momentarily shattered and the reader is reminded that they are reading a novel.
But taken as a whole, The Dissasembled Man is a damn fine read; a brilliant and raw example of the Psycho Noir genre, and a move back to the point of view of the disenfranchised American heartland that seems to have been ignored lately by a great deal of crime fiction. Flexer's world is one of losers and drifters and grifters and hard luck cases who came into this world with bad luck and only accumulated more as they grew up. The spirit of Thompson hangs heavy over this novel which feels at once part of the old pulp movement and also timeless; the America described in this novel is near mythical in its refusal to tie itself down to a year or era more than "now". There are hints of incest and immorality that are simply part of the fabirc of the life, and you know that Flexer's world is a world of the damned. Is there hope? There is only the hope of hope, and that adds a vicious streak to the novel that some may find unpalatable, but which those who dig the whole psycho-noir genre - particularly the cold and amoral world of early Jason Starr - are going to clamour around. And perhaps that should serve as a warning, too. Like many of Starr's character, Avicious is often unpalatable and plain repulsive. He's not a guy you're going to warm to, but he's absolutely fascinating and unsettling; a bold choice of narrator and if you prefer your characters to be fascinating rather than sympathetic, Avicious is your man. And, like Frankie, the book itself is too mean to be sympathetic, too damn tough to be loved and too screwed to be forgiven, and yet those pages turn as you find yourtself descending into the literal hell of one man's mind. This is unforgiving stuff, about as far from commercial crime as you could get, and damn did we love it here at Crime Scene Scotland.
And then there's that ending... is it a metaphysical, allegorical or plain loony tunes twist? Hard to say without discussing it, but suffice to say its going to stay with you for a long time even if all you're trying to do is figure out the truth.
Despite a roughness around the edges - which perhaps also gives it its charm - The Dissasembled Man is an excellent psycho-noir; A fine start for New Pulp, and a bold and disturbing debut from Flexer, read this one at the risk of your own sanity.
Russel D McLean for Crime Scene Scotland, 1/07/09