Social realism, huh?
Here’s some commonplace, everyday life examples of social realism for you:
✔ Escaping the oppressive confines of Walmart to find a refuge in the glory of the lower-middle class glamour that is Safeway.
✔ High-fiving a shirtless gang-bunger covered in unreadable tattoos who is proudly taking his baby-mama for a ride on a motorized shopping cart he just stole.
✔ Telling two very polite burly thugs that you do not wish to buy a home entertainment system that they have in the back of their pickup truck.
But then, that’s just a boring, everyday routine. Who would want to read that? Let’s step it up a notch.
Take drugs, sex, and violence; expensive night clubs and run-down dens of sin; filthy rich and those who want to be even richer or filthier; and while we are at it, throw in some good, old-fashioned hatin’ as well. Stick it in London’s “live in the moment” scene, paint the glamour on the backdrop of dirt, and power it up with enough coke to fuel a Nazi blitzkrieg.
That will do for a start, I guess. With this, we are sliding into that slippery Guy Ritchie territory that makes us want to see the bad guys succeed and stop wondering about such clichés as moral relativism.
But enough of my daily dose of social commentary, we’ve got us some book-critiquing to do. Just roll with it, sister, like there’s no nails sticking out of the ground.
Tony, the key protagonist, doesn’t seem to me like the main hero of this novel. Interesting, right? I understand that everything is revolving around him and his business. However, there are so many different stories and subplots in this book in which he is not directly involved that it gave me an idea – perhaps, the actual hero of the novel is not a mere human but a lifestyle of the not-so-invisible underside of the society? That makes certain sense to me when I think back to how the story was constructed.
Much like Ritchie or Tarantino tales, the narrative is a kaleidoscope of small happenings that involve multiple characters that sometimes might seem unrelated at first. A lawyer with a coke habit gets a client who is an Indian crime-lord a mild-mannered older gentlemen on a drug run gets in a fight over a road-rage incident; a socialite is preparing for a charity event; a rabbi gets busted pushing coke. This is not a painting in wide strokes, however, the feeling I got was more of a zooming in from above at points of interest.
Since there are many scenes, there are also many characters involved. It starts with Tony’s crew, expands to people they know and do business with and other people involved, however sideways. With Tony’s “New-Age Natural High” idea of a retirement plan, more and more characters get in the action. Some of them are episodic but a few keep reappearing periodically and move the story forward. A few of the latter tend to stand out. I think my favorites are “Big” Bernie, standing “three‐foot‐four inches tall with a Mohican haircut coloured blue and green, at only twenty‐ seven‐years‐old he was a Mensa maths genius who took care of all Tony’s outgoings, expenses, deposits, savings, and money draw‐downs” and Richard, who “enjoyed the power of being a lawyer and not much else.” Both are colorful in their own way, and both start as hard-to-relate-to characters yet grow somewhat sympathetic as the story progresses.
One thing that deserves close attention is the way the novel is written. Many a time, the words are a Synesthesia of a cultural references that has an urban beat to it. Here are some passages I liked:
◕ “He smiled walking over to his phone whilst piping the lyrics to the Black Eyed Peas song Where is the Love. It was a bumbling skit shaved with good intentions and unswerving devotion. T felt valued. The rest of the day fell away with a yawn.”
◕ “It was a ripe, spanking night; the wind slapping the skin of the trees and hurling the leaves from top to bottom in a spin rush, shading the Autumn sky with thick brush strokes of colour, a post impressionist hue of twilight beauty.”
◕ “Tony was gliding around like a figure skater, his footwork smoother than a Pink Floyd baseline and twice as chilled.”
The style also pinpoints the intended audience for the novel. If you can understand what this is about, then this book is definitely for you:
◕ “Limping to his feet like a wounded animal, he was a drowning reflection of a Herman Nietzsche liturgy.”
◕ “One solitary gunfire shot had ripped open the Manhattan skyline and mottled the night air red. It was a horrifying sight to behold, like a Damien Hirst installation without the safety of Perspex.”
◕ “They chatted politely for the next few minutes then T lost interest in her girlish life and tuned into ALI G.”
Many of the characters tend to speak in a rapping sing-song that, together with their description, give the reader a feeling of who they are and why they are in a scene. Here’s Tony’s boss:
◕ “Those days man I was a fool runnin all over town so mi got `ere, mi had nothin so mi had nothin to lose understand.”
Here’s just an episodic character:
◕ “Ello darling my you is a pretty boy mmm ooh wee you got competition man he is fine oh bwouy so fine.”
One can correctly guess what they are about even without reading a description, which makes it easier to get a quick reference point on the character, especially since there are so many of them appear in the novel.
There’s somewhat in the style of recitation of this novel reminiscent of the way Kurt Vonnegut used to do it, this amused monotone. However, I think the general style of the prose is much closer to that of Alfred Bester – attacking all the senses and piling up the references to give in a few lines the picture that it would take half a page to construct. Either way you swing, this is a good read for those who appreciate things done differently and with a style.