Thursday, 26 September 2019
HARLIN HAILEY - EAST OF LINCOLN (2019)
An artist is murdered. We know who did it. But why?
The year is 2012. The end of the world is near. Set in the moral badlands of contemporary Los Angeles, a motley crew of unemployed characters is brought together by self-loathing, boredom and defeat. Facing hard times and no prospects, they gather in a run-down apartment to change their fates. But a destructive, nihilistic stranger has other ideas. Ideas that will change their lives forever.
From Harlin Hailey, the award-winning author of The Downsizing of Hudson Foster, comes this Literary Crime tale of desperation, depravity, and murder. Darkly funny, sad and fiercely honest, this evocative, hardboiled whydunnit captures the mood of those forgotten, and how far they'll go once they've lost it all.
East of Lincoln is an unforgettable story of the black heart of the American dream, and the enduring power of friendship.
For fans of Los Angeles noir, dirty realism, James Ellroy, Bret Easton Ellis, Charles Bukowski, John Fante, Raymond Chandler, and Joan Didion.
A blind punt on a book or author I had previously never heard of and one that paid off as I really liked this one.
Friendship, desperation, disconnection, loss and a perpetual downward spiral affecting family, job, prospects, hope, possessions - the car and city mobility, home, a viable future, and in the end a best friend.
Our narrator is Richard Jenkins and he tells us of the death of The Artist. The book then backtracks and we have a linear unravelling of the story and how we get to the point of murder.
For a lot of the book not a lot happens as such, but that's perfectly fine. We get to know the characters, their demons and insecurities, their failures and the back drop of the times. Richard used to work in real estate. Fat chance of that now, he's reduced to humiliating Skype interviews where he has to amuse the interviewee by singing his favourite song. Too old and with no skill set that is relevant to the current day economy. The day before yesterday's man. He trades down from a car to a pushbike to fund a holiday for his college going daughter. Prospects aren't great. His father's health is failing and his friendships are the only crutch supporting him.
His best friend, The Artist is on his downers as well. He continues to paint, but hasn't sold one in years and is suffering a crisis in confidence. He's painting houses to pay the rent, though on occasions even that's not enough. He has real talent and is easy-going, affable, popular and well-regarded by the locals. Always happy to chat as he works at his easel on the streets.
Into their midst, comes The Artist's neighbour, Bales. Manipulative, bitter, twisted and cruel. Similar story to Richard or Clean as he nicknames him - with one major difference. Bales is dark and disturbed. Broken marriage, unemployed and unemployable with rumours circulating about the reasons for his demise - a severe sexual assault/rape which was hushed up. Bales takes everything just that little bit too far...... drinks at a bar - he skips out on the bill; some women celebrating a birthday - he pops all her balloons. Controlling, jealous and scheming he's on his way down, but determined not to go out alone.
I liked the connections and relationships on show here. Friendships or cliques very rarely seem to be evenhanded or balanced. There's always a more dominant personality, coming to the fore. Here it just gets magnified to the nth degree. If I was picky, I might wonder why Bales was allowed to intrude and invade and ultimately spoil the relationships of the group of friends. In addition to Richard and The Artist, there's the trust fund kid upstairs who is the group's gopher and another, who is the source of the group's weed supply.
There's also a sadness about the outcome. Not just the cruel death of the artist, just as things were starting to turn for him. The loss for his friends, family, acquaintances and this reader is palpable, even though we know it's coming. I think its more zeitgeist .... the ever changing world, re-gentrification and the loss of community, a sense of disenfranchisement and a feeling that there aren't better times ahead. Ironic to think that this takes place during Obama's watch. The spray-tanned orange blimp hasn't exactly changed the narrative.
Lots to like and ponder.
4.5 from 5
The Downsizing of Hudson Foster is Hailey's earlier novel. I may have to check it out.
Read - September, 2019
Published - 2019 (next month)
Page count - 448
Source - Reedsy Discover early reviewer site
Format - PDF file read on laptop.