I think the time I spent reading this book might better have been spent in a coma.
Don't get me wrong. Sure, the book is noir fiction; but I enjoy good dark fiction as much as anyone. If you want a good example of the genre, read any of Ross McDonald's mysteries or the much under-rated Saratoga series by Stephen Dobyns.
And it's not that the anti-hero is an alcoholic. As long as he can drop into an AA program and tack on some self-awareness, he's got my blessing. Try reading some of Lawrence Block's Matt Scudder novels; or James Lee Burke's Robicheaux series for a taste of that.
And it's not that the ending is inconclusive. I was totally satisfied by Thomas H. Cook's brilliant novel, "The Interrogation".
What it is about this book is that nothing is redemptive, nothing lifts the book up in any way. The narrator is an unremorseful alcoholic who entertains the conceit that he is a refugee, thereby demeaning virtually every refugee on the planet; the narrator is a loser. Very literally: he has lost his wife, his son. In the course of the book, through sheer obstinate stupidity, he loses his dog, his future, his credibility, his integrity, and whatever few remaining IQ points he had at the beginning of the novel.
The lose ends at the novel's end are painful: a girl has been murdered, it seems ritualistically, but we never know who committed the murder, only who has taken the blame. A woman is missing -- we are told by one character that she is safe but have no evidence of this, and in fact clues seems to imply the opposite. The narrator who has not made one correct deduction through the entire course of the novel expects us to trust his belief that he has been given reliable information by a character whose very choices makes her an unlikely candidate for reliable revelations.
I know that this book has been lauded by some. It has a bleakness that might be mistaken for truth or clarity of vision; but here the bleakness is a cheap, contrived bleakness, the bleakness that comes from the eyes of the beholder, the unreliable narrator of this book, the alcoholic who must find the flaw, even if none exists, in every person he meets, especially if anything in their life transcends the facts of his own existence. Yeah, yeah, yeah: I know that small towns can be insular and smothering, that in real life people are often mean-minded and blind to truth, that entire communities can be that way. Duh! Did Collins think he was on to something the rest of us was missing? Did he see some underlying truth of the human condition we never knew was there? If so, he certainly failed to convey it.
If you want to read about all-pervading loss of hope, despair that tears at the soul, and yet sense a ribbon of humanity beneath it, then find the novels of Graham Greene, all of them, and start reading.
As for this novel, if you have a bird cage ...