Monday, October 18, 2010

Read It for the POV's, Stay for the Thinking Afterwards Stuff


I'm going to address my review of Ryan David Jahn's Acts of Violence primarily to writers.  Not only is that who most of blog's readers are, but I think it gives me a chance to talk about it a certain way.  Readers, rest assured it's a great thriller with a lot of action, a lot of suspenseful drama, some emotional ups and downs and downs and downs and downs and downs and maybe ups.  It's brutal.  It's oppressive at times.  It's full of sex, violence, gore, depravity, a lot of action, and a lot of drama.  The amp is set to 11, without a doubt.  Get it, read it.

Writers: I know that not everyone can handle violence or being immersed in the dark.  This book is packed with violence and it pulls you into the dark so quickly you're not sure what's going on, but you can't remember when you last saw the light.  If you can at all handle it, I would highly encourage you to read it.  If you're not into thrillers or crime novels, but are still okay with the violence, please do yourself a favor and read it anyway.


Because Jahn does two things masterfully, and I think we could all stand to learn from them.

First, Jahn takes a large ensemble cast and gives them almost every one a chance to be at the center of a tight, intimate third-person POV that is exquisitely voiced.  I take some pride in the richness of my first person narrative voices.  I've taken some pride in the developing voicing of my two first person narrators in my current book.  Jahn hits the high mark in voicing each one of the ensemble.  Each voice is strong enough to carry the momentum of the high-adrenaline story, unique enough to be identifiable, and rich enough to bring character backstory and foreshadowing along for the ride in an otherwise tight, punctiliar story.

Second, there's a lot to think about when you're done reading.  I'll be honest.  At times, I found the darkness oppressive and I felt I need a breath of even false hope at some point to pull me out for air. Even when I was immediately done, I was left with a very nihilistic feeling.  Even now, I think that's a reasonable takeaway.  I think it's important to note, however, that I am still thinking and pondering this book in the back mind, a few days later and after having written and read other things.

At the end of the book, I thought one character had a glimmer of hope, and that it was a pretty thin glimmer.  As the book has gnawed away at the back of my mind, however, I've realized there's more to it than that.    Every character in the book face some kind of violence.  Some physical, some social, some emotional, some psychological.  The more I think about it, the more ways I see violence acting on these characters.  And every character had a response to that violence.  Sometimes it was more violence.  Sometimes, it was choosing an alternative.  And sometimes it was paralysis or defeatism.  We're left to consider those responses and their effectiveness.

What were Jahn's intentions?  I'm not sure it matters.  He gave us the story and the characters, and I'm delighted to have them to think about.

So, writers, here are your lessons for the day:

  • Voice is great.
  • It's more important to leave your leaders thinking than it is to give them a thought.
  • It is possible to write a book that works amazingly well for readers as diverse as pulp fiction monkey and literary snobs and genre hacks.
  • Your prose doesn't need to be deep or poetic to stir thought and reach readers' cores.

Looking forward to reading Low Life in the not-too-distant future.



  1. You had me with the opening paragraph. I'm not afraid of sex, gore, violence, or depravity (unless all said features have no storyline attached). This is so on my reading list.

    Why don't you just send me your copy and I'll get right on that (lol)

    Seriously though, I like your review. I'm a deep third writer myself, but always from a single characters perspective. I know I limit myself that way. So I'd like to see how he manages to pull it off with multiple characters. Good voice you say; I'd imagine it would be an essential writing skill for this.

    The novels I enjoy most leave me thinking - and wanting to read it again. I'm done with a book when I pick it up for the nnth time and find myself skimming.

    Now I can't wait to get this book and read it. Thanks for the reader alert.


  2. It's more important to leave your leaders thinking than it is to give them a thought: Perfect! I love books and movies and plays that continue to niggle at me long after I've finished reading/watching them.

    I have to say my tolerance for nihilistic feelings has gone down considerably. Age? Becoming a parent? Who knows. I do remember craving that strong, deep feelings of being touched to the core when I was much younger. And unfortunately, things that evoked those depths were often of the dark nature: depravity of man, hopelessness, meaninglessness. (Yes, I wore black a lot then.)

    I don't know if it was because I was too afraid, as a new adult, to face all the ugliness and darkness of the real world and was subconsciously using these experiences to test my strength. Or maybe I couldn't handle real life difficulties and had to escape to fictitious darkness.

    Didnt' realize I was that full fear. Hmmmm.

    So, okay. Maybe I feel differently now not entirely because I am old and tired, but because I have since faced the real stuff and it has taken it out of me.

    Darn it. I was trying to end on a upbeat note. Ha. There.

  3. Great review, Nevets. Acts of Violence is an outstanding novel. It's not a light or easy read, but I don't think it's completely nihilistic.

    I'll be interested to see what you make of Low Life - in some ways very similar but in others extraordinarily different.

  4. @Tim - I agree that it's not completely nihilistic. That was my initial feeling, but the more I think about it, the more I think that's not right. That's part of what I enjoy about the book so much.

    In fact, I initially hated the last sentence of the book because it felt unnecessary and out of place. It is, however, part of what stirred me to thought. While I still don't think it was necessary in terms of its immediate context, I do think it served to prod me to think about the broader context, so I may not hate it. (Hard talking about this without spoilers.)

    @Donna - Based on what you said I'll think you'll enjoy reading this book. It really does work thematically on multiple levels, depending on the reader's own initiative and interest, and it would be hard for a writer to not appreciate and admire the craft. The prose is not poetic, but it shouldn't be for this story. The craft is in the structure and voicing.

    @Yat-Yee - I understand what you mean. In certain ways I think I've transitioned in and out a tolerance for nihilism throughout my life. These days I think it depends on the purpose of it. If there is a truly, utterly nihilistic aim, I have a hard time with it. If the nihilism is invoked along to something more reflective, I can handle it. In this, I do think that when all is said and done, Acts of Violence is not a nihilistic "morality play." (There's an odd juxtaposition.) The nihilism you encounter along the way is definitely heavy, though.

  5. I'm not sure I would read it- but I know people who would be interested. I appreciate your comments on it and recommendations, but this kind of thing sends me into a backlash of sorts I'm still working on with my past...So Its good to know there are authors out there that give more than an easy read. I'm all about thickness of plot and characters when I read I found out during this college experience, but we don't see it so often these days.

  6. @Summer - I hope you do mention to the people you know who might like it. It's really well done, and I think Jahn deserves a bit more buzz state-side. He lives in LA, but because of his publication route, he got known in the UK first.

    This was a difficult book for me to review in some ways because while my appreciation for it wants me to just say, "Hey, everyone! Read this book!", I also know it won't be for everyone. I tried to get that dichotomy across in a balanced way without sounding like I was talking out of both sides of my mouth. lol

  7. I think this book would definitely appeal to my husband, and though I think I'd enjoy it I do not do well with these type of books, however if my husband was by my side while we read it I think I could manage to read it!

    It does sound very intriguing! Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  8. First of all, I love that cover.

    Second of all, this books sounds like everything I look for in a good read. Then again, I do have a preference for the dark and violent...

    Great review.

  9. Voice is a big thing for me. If it engages me the writer can get away of lots. Must get this one.

  10. Love your last point, sometimes the simplest writing is the most powerful.

  11. Wow. After a post like this, I am off to Amazon! :-)

  12. @Jen - Some books are best enjoyed with someone else in the house...

    @Jennifer - From what I gather of your tastes adn your personality, I think you'll like this book.

    @Michael - I never guarantee another reader will like something, but I would definitely be surprised if you didn't enjoy this one.

    @Danielle - It's easy to lose track of that isn't it?

    @Shannon - Awesome!


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