A "mystery" which is also a breathtaking and complete literary experience, this powerful novel "out-noirs" almost every "noir" novel I have ever read with its sad and desperate characters trying to cope with the miseries fate has dealt them. As they live their daily lives in various parts of Phoenix, none of Sallis's three main characters expect that things will change--they just soldier on, doing whatever it takes. The first character, Christian, is a Vietnam vet, a former medic who has been a contract killer for many years. Hired to kill a "nondescript office-dweller at a nondescript accounting firm in a featureless city [Phoenix] where everything is dun-colored," he has just discovered, at the outset of the book, that some other assassin has made the hit--and botched it. His goal is to identify the other hitman and complete the job for which he has been hired, but time is short: Christian is dying.
The second character, Jimmie Kostof, is a thirteen-year-old who has fallen through the cracks. His mentally ill mother disappeared more than a year ago, and his father, shortly afterward. Incredibly resilient, he has been staying alive in his house without being discovered by the authorities. His nights are especially difficult, however: he has somehow tapped into the nightmares of Christian, the killer. The third character, police investigator Dale Sayles, is also alone. His wife Josie, who is dying a lingering death, has disappeared, leaving a note explaining that "I'm not a survivor, Dale. I've known that all along."
The reader comes to know these characters through a series of impressionistic, descriptive episodes in which the individual characters are not initially identified. Gradually, one comes to recognize the different points of view from references to details connected with each specific character. In a literary tour de force, none of these characters associate directly with each other, and do not even know each other, during the action. They live parallel, not interconnected lives, illustrating stylistically the solitary nature of their individual lives. The minimal contact that eventually does develop at the conclusion is a glancing contact which barely registers.
As Sallis develops his themes by having his three main characters live their separate lives, he creates enormous sympathy for them, and the reader gains small measures of hope for them as they sometimes begin to reach out tentatively to connect with others. He also includes more information in fewer words than almost any other writer I have found. Every word and every image counts here, and his descriptions are memorably unique. A man's "belt buckle [was] recently let out a couple of notches so that the old half-circle hoofprints showed." The passengers on a bus are referred to as "Jonahs." Sayles, after a sleepless night, believes that "the light...out there somewhere in the night [is] feeling its way blindly toward him." Even small details, such as the books Jimmie reads and the TV programs which Christian sees and remembers reflect the themes and states of mind, adding to the novel's strength. Powerful, thoughtful, often heart-breaking, and complete, this novel reflects a kind of honesty that is rare in fiction. Mary Whipple
(WHAT YOU HAVE LEFT: THE TURNER TRILOGY; CYPRESS GROVE, CRIPPLE CREEK, SALT RIVER ) BY Sallis, James (Author) Paperback Published on (12 , 2008)
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