Metaphors are heady things, and yet they offer themselves up not to the most intelligent, but to those with the time to ponder them. Take a stream, for example. If you’ve stood for hours on its banks (perhaps clutching a fishing pole, as I used to do when living in Colorado), you gain something more than an intellectual understanding of its nature. You begin to grasp why people have used it to convey a sense of life’s transience. You also comprehend why it’s been linked with our thought processes and the particular literary technique meant to approximate them -- stream of consciousness.
It’s this particular stream that runs right through the center of Adrian McKinty’s Dead I Well May Be, a noir-ish tale about an Irish-expatriate who becomes an enforcer for an organized-crime family. His name is Michael Forsythe, and from the first chapter on McKinty plugs you into his head, into the stink and heat and blight of Harlem, into back-room tortures and the cordite reek of close-range gunfights, into the adrenaline rush and hallucinatory terrors of a desperate prison break. As Michael gets it, so do you.
Such an approach has obstacles. The style is difficult. McKinty occasionally adds some explanation, but usually you’re just along for the convoluted ride. Much like Cormac McCarthy, he drops punctuation, particularly quotation marks. All the interior monologuing makes it easy to miss important bits and causes the novel’s first half to drag. Also, Michael isn’t -- to quote an old Lit professor -- exactly the kind of person you’d want for a roommate. He’s profane, profligate and violent. At one point, he imagines New York itself accusing him, saying, “You’re a thief, you’re a bully. You hurt people. You’re nothing, a shadow. You’re a fool. A nasty wee piece of work.”
An impatient reader might be inclined to agree and put the book aside. He’d miss out, though, because the plot eventually coalesces, becoming something dark and lean, something possessing a peculiar grace of its own. While Michael never really turns into best-friend material, the horrors he encounters and the persistence with which he overcomes them make him more sympathetic. Then there’s the finale -- tense, charged, a worthy payoff. Not unlike a stream and the ideas built around it, Dead I Well May Be will reward you if you take the time.
(Picture: CC 2007 by -(Stu)-)