Thursday, August 7, 2008

Yellow Medicine, a Book Report

You’ve already seen reviews that tell you what Anthony Neil Smith’s Yellow Medicine is like, so I’m going to focus on my own interests. I just finished this fast paced thriller, and yet the stuff in it—bad cops, terrorists in the heartland, and general all around punkliness—is not as interesting as its complicated narrator, Billy Lafitte. To put it bluntly, BL is full of shit for two thirds of the book, making a lot of claims about what kind of guy he is, trying to invent a belief system to rationalize his nearly equal capacity for love and violence. He’s so consistently full of shit that the characteristic becomes the crucial vulnerability through which his power is filtered—a feature that makes this book vibrate.

Then, on page 167, Billy does something truly horrifying, and does it with an efficiency that is so unsettling I would argue he is insane until the end of the book. His uncertainties and bluster coalesce over an unspeakable transgression, and from that point on he has “no filter,” as the character Drew, the object of his most tender feelings, puts it.

Three craft notes: 1) allowing Billy to tell his own story is a big, bold move. I’m still mulling that choice, because while he is a fascinating observer, he would also be fascinating to observe. 2) Smith gently manipulates chronology, using a bit of film rhetoric that pairs nicely with Billy’s habit of frequently referencing TV and movie models of behavior. 3) Short book, short chapters, wild mix of sentiment and blood. Yes, that’s how to do it.

oh, and I almost forgot--a perfect last paragraph.

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