Matthew McIntosh, Author . Grove $24 (276p) ISBN 978-0-8021-1751-9

A starred or boxed review indicates a book of outstanding quality. A review with a blue-tinted title indicates a book of unusual commercial interest that hasn't received a starred or boxed review.

WELLMatthew McIntosh. Grove, $24 (288p) ISBN 0-8021-1751-1

"I think something inside of her broke, whatever that string is that holds people together, it snapped." "That string" is the leitmotif of this unusual, dark debut novel with an ensemble cast. McIntosh assembles different episodes and voices to create an impressionistic tableau of Federal Way, Washington, a blue-collar town facing the loss of blue-collar jobs and culture. McIntosh's characters are introduced in first-person testimonies and third-person sketches that build matter-of-factly and then trail off ambiguously, like entries in a police blotter—if the police blotter were written by Samuel Beckett. They lead lives of quiet despair, punctuated by bursts of violence, benders and bad sex. Physical pain harries many of the characters, madness others, and almost all are cursed with deteriorating personal relationships. Among the most moving episodes is a long chapter, "Fishboy," narrated by Will, a student at a small college in Nebraska who is studying fisheries. The story flashes back to his dangerous obsession with a classmate, Emily Swanson, and his father leaving his mother. Another beautifully executed sequence, "Border," shows how the suicide of an ex-boxer, Jim, is viewed by his sister-in-law, his brother, his buddies, a former opponent and his mother's friends. The sustained glide from voice to voice is virtuosic, and the writing is dogged—it never gets literary; it digs through the clichés and the usual inarticulateness of the stories people tell in bars and grocery store lines; and it stumbles on diamonds in the rough everywhere. McIntosh is only 26, but he is already an artful registrar of the heart's lower frequencies. Agent, Susan Golomb. (Aug.)Forecast:If grunge met Beckett, it would come out like this. McIntosh will go over particularly well in the Pacific Northwest, and Dennis Cooper fans will love him, too.

Reviewed on: 05/19/2003
Release date: 08/01/2003
Genre: Fiction
Paperback - 288 pages - 978-0-8021-4143-9
Show other formats
Discover what to read next