Disclaimer: I received an advance reader's copy (ARC) of this book from NetGalley in exchange for my honest review. All opinions expressed are my own, and no monetary compensation was received for this review.
This was my first Stephen Graham Jones novel and it won’t be my last.
I’ve always had a pet peeve against the second-person narrative. Using the second person the writer is constantly confronting the reader assuming that he/she’ll react positively, thinking that he/she’ll be drawn into the story, but requiring increased suspension of disbelief for him/her to actually enjoy the story. For me “suspension of disbelief” has to be avoided at all costs. In this case the approach worked almost pitch perfect.
Also in some places, because of the second-person narrative, the usual barrier set between the writer and the reader was quite obvious. The "you" was the killer here. It did not allow full-rounded characterization. The "you" was not supported by an identifiable and recognizable narrator. I usually found myself becoming dependent mostly on narrative description since internalization, action, and dialogue were connected to the fuzzy (and hazy) “you”:
“Because you were still a hero, and because he’d probably done all twelve grades in one classroom and never had a Mrs. Rankin to test him on the quadratic formula,you’d asked him where algebra fit in? In answer he’d rubbed his nose in the shameless way of old men, shrugged, and said that that kind of fancy arithmetic was what you might call a murder investigation - the kind of problem where you already have the answer, a dead person, then all this evidence bunched up on the other side of the equals-sign. Your job as a detective, then, is to arrange the evidence in such a way that only one variable will work with them to produce a dead body. And that variable, that x, that’s your killer.”
(NB: This not first-person narrative voice; it’s second-person in full splendour)
Writing second-person novels is not for roller-coaster readers. As a reader I don’t like roller-coasters. That said, this book was really up my alley.
Technically Graham Jones had some trouble avoiding the dreaded ‘You’ with every sentence, but on the whole I think he quite succeeded.
Another thing that impressed me a lot was the fact that Graham Jones’ second-person narrative didn’t strike me as a mere device. This story had to be told this way. It allowed playing with POV in order to transform the story.
- I was completely drawn into the action. Using the “you” and describing action as it happened, it propelled the story and me, the reader, forward;
- Using the second-person, because it’s not often successfully done, it’s always refreshing. It allows me to have a different perspective about the story being told.
Jones is not a prose stylist, but boy, he sure knows how to tell a story. At times he is quite brilliant. He can write his ass off.
It suffices to say that second-person narrative is not everyone’s cup of tea.