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.