Thursday, December 2, 2010

Book Review: Dave Zeltserman, Pariah (2009)

As an example of noir, Dave Zeltserman’s Pariah, the second installment in his man-out-of-prison trilogy, is a cross between Don Tracy’s Round Trip (1934) and Jason Starr’s Fake I.D. (2000). Like Round Trip, the structure of Pariah is episodic. There are several plot elements in the first three-quarters of the novel (including a revenge plot, some family psychodrama, a kidnapping, and a trial), any one of which could have been the foundation of a thriller with a conventional plot arc. But, as in Round Trip, the plot wanders, trading narrative tension for a heightened sense of realism. The major difference between Round Trip and Pariah is that the protagonist of Tracy’s novel, Eddie Magruder, is basically a sympathetic character, while the protagonist of Zeltserman’s novel, Kyle Nevin, is fairly loathsome from the moment the novel begins. Thus, like Jason Starr with Tommy Russo, the unsympathetic protagonist of Fake I.D., Zeltserman takes a chance that he can make readers care enough about the fate of an unlikeable character to keep reading. Combine this risk with the risky plot structure, and Pariah becomes a noir high-wire act. But if Zeltserman gets you across the wire, you will be rewarded at the other side. Grade: B-

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