When’s the last time you totally lost it — not under the sway of drink or drugs, but just pure rage flowing right up out of the old unconscious — and wailed on someone uncontrollably? Well for your sake, bud, let’s hope never.
Anyone who thinks that violence is “cool” or just part of the game (hockey, football, name your poison) should pick up Jason Starr’s latest noir novel, Hard Feelings, for a freak-out of extra-queasy proportions. Young Starr gets the privilege of seeing this, his fourth book, come out from Vintage’s Black Lizard as a paperback original — a first for the 10-year series that has made its reputation publishing the masters of the crime genre: Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Patricia Highsmith, Jim Thompson et al. But two pages into Starr’s nightmare and you’ll know why junior gets to join the list.
For starters, there’s the un-put-down-ability of the tale itself, in which an everyday corporate Joe (actually Richard, a computer network salesman in Manhattan), with a sexy wife, a cute dog named Otis and a lifestyle that a lot of people would die for, slides ever so surely toward self-destruction. The writing that serves it all up is spare (almost innocently so) and boiled down to the essential a la Hammett or Thompson. And the endgame unfolding provokes that hard gut-sinking feeling that makes the title ambiguously perfect: hard feelings? — as in “no hard feelings” — or feelings that are hard to control, hard to forget?
Well, anyone who sweats through to the end of Starr’s little psychodrama will find it hard to forget, that’s for sure. There are echoes of Thompson’s first-person narrator in The Killer Inside Me, particularly since we never stop hoping things will work out for Richard, a likable guy just like you and me (the best hook of all). And a finale worthy of Edgar Allan Poe’s masterpiece “The Black Cat.”
Of course, you don’t have to be fascinated by violence to enjoy Hard Feelings — you just have to start reading on page one, then look up and wonder where the afternoon went, and your emotional complacency with it. Starr has created an obsessive read quite beyond “entertainment” and “enjoyment,” somewhere this side of pure holy hell.
George Tysh is Metro Times arts editor. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.