It is interesting to me how sometimes an author’s style and approach can “work” while at other times – with almost the exact same ingredients – it falls flat. I was pondering this after having read Jim Krusoe‘s latest novel Toward You.
Krusoe spins what I would describe as tales of comic absurd-ism. Little lives not quite connected to reality tempered with a connection to, or a desperate need to connect to, the afterlife.
In this volume, a furniture upholsterer named Bob has been working his whole life on a “communicator” that would allow the living to hear from the dead. But the communicator seems instead to be taking the focus off more important things in his life – like his work and relationships with the living. A dead dog and and encounter with an ex-girlfriend kick off the plot such as it is.
Krusoe has a way with sketching witty vignettes with these desperate characters – some goodhearted, others not – that makes the reading enjoyable. But the story in this and the previous novel just don’t have the movement and zip of the first.
I really enjoyed the first book in this absurdest death/afterlife trilogy, Girl Factory:
However you come down on what the story is really about, Girl Factory is certainly entertaining. And short enough to be considered a novella, with a quick and engaging style, it is a quick read. Its wry humor and insightful descriptions of human nature and American culture will bring a smile to your face and occasionally a chuckle.
But when I read the next book in the series, Erased, it didn’t have the same impact:
But for whatever reason, Erased didn’t quite work for me. Erased is still the same blend of dream like states and all too real reality. It still comes with a host of funny quips, entertaining characters, and absurd situations as Krusoe’s previous work. And I enjoyed that aspect.
But it seemed to me that Krusoe turned up the absurdest and surrealist aspects of the novel to such a degree that the plot or narrative got lost. I realize that perhaps the plot in the traditional sense wasn’t the point. But for me there needs to be something that pulls the story forward and also causes it to cohere into something more than a collection of words; no matter how well crafted.
In Toward You it felt like the absurdity was turned down a notch or two but the plot didn’t quite come together. In other words, it felt to me that Girl Factory has just the right balance for me while the last two books seemed off – the mix not quite right.
There are some funny moments and times when he captures the true awkwardness that can be involved in social situations; captures the internal monologues and self-deceits. But it didn’t feel like the book had a pay off; it just sort of drifted to an ending of sorts,
As with so many, there is a “your mileage may vary” quality to judging this book. If you enjoy the absurd elements and appreciate the word play and subtle social commentary then you might enjoy the novel without a plot that really drives the story or comes together fully in the end.
Krusoe is clearly a talented wordsmith with a witty eye for the lives and relationships of the socially challenged. But for me it seems the combination of lead character, plot and other elements have to come together just right for it to “work.”