Tuesday, February 26, 2013

masks that disguise their voices

Just finished my buddy Pat King's book Exit Nothing recently, and it was one of the best books I've read in quite a while. Pat used to host a reading series here in Baltimore, first alongside Nik Korpon and then alongside A. Jarrell Hayes, and he's as friendly and affable a guy as you're likely to meet. Despite being from Alabama, he's got that scruffy, underdressed Baltimore charm in spades.

That said, Exit Nothing took me by surprise. As well as I know Pat, I'm not all that familiar with his work, and his book is just fantastic. The protagonist drifts between cities, relationships, and jobs, unable to maintain anything in his life for very long, and his time spent among alcoholic poets and urban circus performers in Philly serves as the book's nucleus, as well as the point where one part of his life ends and another begins. It not only helps the narrator figure out what his own preferred comforts are, but it serves as a litmus test to determine which of his romantic partners is the right fit for him.

Pat's narrative voice is clear and honest, and artful in the right places, and thus his narrator is engaging even when he's being an impulsive idiot. He's not unlike a semi-functional addict, fully aware of his own weaknesses and yet unable to keep them in check. The other characters in this book - the Mad Poet, the narrator's wives and girlfriends - are refreshingly active parts of the story, and the way they fluctuate between enabling, tolerating, and finally losing patience with the narrator provides tension that novels like this (defined by me as "Lost Generation quarter-life crisis novels") often lack.

In the wrong hands, this story would have been a dry, unsatisfying alt-lit wankjob, but Pat dug into his own heart and got a damn good book out of it. You can get a copy here, which I recommend doing before the industry falls apart and books go away forever and humanity enters a new Dark Age from which the only escape will be death.

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