cover image The Dishwasher

The Dishwasher

Dannie M. Martin. W. W. Norton & Company, $20 (252pp) ISBN 978-0-393-03790-6

Martin brings an interesting resume to his first novel: three decades in prison and coauthorship of Committing Journalism: The Prison Writings of Red Hog, an acclaimed nonfiction book composed of prison reportage first published in the Sunday Punch section of the San Francisco Chronicle while Martin was still incarcerated. Like Martin, Bill Malone, this novel's protagonist, is a recently released convict. Attempting to lead a quiet, reformed life, he returns to Fresno, Calif., the site of his arrest, where he finds a job as a dishwasher in a restaurant. After a brief affair with a waitress, Malone enters into a budding romance with Gail, the manager of the hotel where he has taken a room. Malone's newfound tranquillity and emerging domestic life with Gail and her daughter, June, come to an abrupt end when June is the victim of a vicious attack by a drug dealer. The tough ex-con soon finds himself battling the local mob, a third-rate band of hoods who are almost as stupid as they are violent. Martin persuasively paints Malone's ambivalence as he both avoids and relishes the challenge. But the plotting is contrived, and the prose labors awkwardly between hard-boiled and awkward. Clearly Martin has intriguing stories to tell; hopefully he will learn to tell them better. (June)