-So what should we do?
-What do you mean?
-When you’re out in the country you just open the fence and go in.
-I thought that was how you got shot out in the country.
-Look. You can see the house over there. Let’s cut through the woods.
-You don’t want to stay on the road?
-I’m not a car. I can do what I want.
kirk lynn’s background is in theater, which explains his decision to write this novel almost entirely in dialogue, but also explains why he’s just so dingdang good at it. because it can’t be easy; sustaining the shifting perspectives of a veritable pack characters over the course of a nearly 350-page book in which there is also sooo much ambiguity and … weirdness with only scattered, fragmenty bits of conversation holding the narrative together.
but i’m telling you – it works.
i’m also telling you, for some reason it took me a full week to get through this book. not because i didn’t enjoy reading it, and not even because i had so much other stuff going on, although i did, but because i wanted to let it sit with me a bit, for savoring. it’s fast-paced, like any novel driven by dialogue, but it’s deceptively so: there’s a surprising amount of density to this that made me want to pause every so often to just absorb it all. it’s rich with metaphor, with larger-than-context import, social commentary, perfect observations, all sprinkled into a relatively low-action book in which teenage squatters move from one temporarily unoccupied suburban home after another, forming a society, a family, and occasionally turning into werewolves. maybe.
-I can’t be caught.
-You’ll be surprised. There’s some fast guys on the force.
-I mean, I can’t be caught alive.
the parts that aren’t in dialogue are still rooted in the theatrical; there are a few long monologues that are literally monologues – pieces of the pack’s history and the personal stories of members of the pack meant to be read aloud, through closed doors, to soothe individuals when they are … unwell.
the characters are wise in the way that the homeless are wise – perspectives that are other, but not incorrect, and it’s frequently funny, in that dark absurd beckett vein of humor.
– How are we going to recruit people?
-You were recruited. So was I.
-Recruited for what? What’s the cause?
-It doesn’t have words yet.
-We’re just getting by.
-That’s the center of it. The civil rights to not be looked down on just because of the way we live off the land.
-We don’t live off the land.
-We break into houses and we steal canned goods.
-Listen, if they cut down all the forests and poisoned all the streams and put up a bunch of ridiculous super-supermarkets – then I don’t think it’s right to arrest us for living off the land they gave us. People didn’t shoplift in the Wild West.
-That’s because you would get shot.
-It’s because on the way from your house to the store you passed trees with fruits in them and fields with corn and woods with little rabbits and streams with trout.
-You make it sound like a supermarket, too.
-Food used to not come from stores. It used to be something that was around. So if they filled up the land with bullshit they can’t say I’m bullshit for saying I live off the land when I help myself to what I find.
the dialogue is all rendered like that – without quotation marks or attribution, and there are times when it can get a little muddy remembering who is in conversation with whom, but the chapter titles are very handy:
Susan explains to Carl the plan for if the maid comes home. Anquille joins them about midway through.
Tanya tells Malcolm what she found when she went to feed Susan.
Bobert, Anquille, Susan, Angel, and Tom decide the hat is a god.
Malcolm is the first one back. Bobert, Tom, and Anquille are tied for second, then some others.
see?? perfectly clear!
and in some ways, it doesn’t always matter who is talking, it’s a word-blanket novel like The Lost Scrapbook, where the overarching tone is more important than the individuals, and here there’s a sort of glazing over several characters (i.e. “then some others”) that depicts them almost like interchangeable cogs, as dangerous as any group of driftless kids who fall into the company of a charismatic leader, especially one who claims to not be a leader, where the collective attitude is – It’s easier to do what other people want than to want on your own..
there is a story to this; a progression of events, but for me the pleasure of the book was its atmosphere, one that kinda just creeps into your pores and propels you through on this mixture of laughter and terror, sometimes at the same time.
When I had my teeth in her I could feel her try to pull away. It made the bite worse. I realized it was an evolutionary thing. The better my teeth are at inflicting pain, the more damage my bite is going to do to living prey, because pulling away does as much damage as biting.
i expected this to be a suburban dystopic – some kind of a.m. homes-style dehumanization allegory, and it kind of is, but i took away so much more from it. for all its minimal and streamlined structure, it’s insanely ambitious in scope, and i folded over so many pages that i wanted to come back to and ruminate on when it was all over. it’s a really lovely surprise of a novel that i would pair with When We Were Animals, and i am just sitting here with an encouraging grin suggesting that maybe more people should give it a shot!
stars cats, if you’re asking.