Miserable people with hard-to-forget voices
I finally got around to reading one of the short novels by the man Stephen King has called “My favorite crime novelist”, The Kill-Off. The narrative voices — a different one for each chapter — work brilliantly, but the story doesn’t. In the end, we’re still not sure who murdered Luane Devore nor (probably) do you much care, but some of those characters’ confessions of why they are so miserable are deeply moving — even if motivations are too complex and contradictory to be convincing. Not enough reward for reading about such unpleasant people, self-hating and deeply suspicious of others, in such a wretched little town.
Although I didn’t enjoy reading this book, I did get something out of it besides the minimal acquaintance with a famous writer. Thompson’s characters here are, one by one, plausible and touch deep feelings, but their stories don’t fit together as well as they might. The hopeless alcoholic bum “Goofy” Gannder is pathetic and may draw a smile, but contributes nothing to the mystery and almost nothing to Thompson’s portrait of a sick town — it’s not apparent why he is even included. Hattie, the black housemaid forbidden to reveal that she is the mother of her employer’s son, is probably the only character you’re likely to care about, the only truly tragic figure, but her tragedy is unacknowledged even by those closest to her — her son and his father — and plays no role in the central story of Luane Devore’s poisoning of the town. Thus reading this book will encourage me to pay more attention not just to my narrative voices but, at least as important, whether and how they support one another to structure a story. Some things for me to keep in mind as I develop my own new novel of the young worker in the Paris Commune, and of the skeptical journalist who is reading about him.