Sunday, March 2, 2014

Walking the Perfect SquareWalking the Perfect Square by Reed Farrel Coleman
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Reed Farrel Coleman’s “Walking the Perfect Square” is not an easy book to review. It is a good, probably even a very good novel, yet the publisher and the author himself are trying very hard to sell it as a masterpiece. There is a Foreword, where an Edgar Award-winning novelist Megan Abbott compares Mr. Coleman’s opus to that of Raymond Chandler. She detects Chandlerian themes, Chandlerian rhythm, and Chandlerian melancholy in Mr. Coleman’s prose. The author provides a pompous and pretentious Afterword where he explains the “odd confluence of factors” that led to the writing of this novel. Both a foreword and an afterword? I have seen it done only in the case of classics. This novel is quite far from being a classic. It is not even in the same class as Chandler’s “The Long Goodbye”.

The beginning of “Walking the Perfect Square” is promising. The prose is lean, mean, and funny. However, with the progress of the plot, the writing deteriorates. Mr. Coleman uses too many words. Where Raymond Chandler or Ross Macdonald needed just a sentence or two to convey a mood, Mr. Coleman needs half a page. On the positive side, the bracketing of the 1978 story by the 1998 events works. The plot is interesting up to a point, but some two-thirds into the novel there is a fissure in its fabric. The Valentine’s Day party at Pooty’s, which plays a crucial role in preparation of the denouement, seems weirdly incongruent with the rest of the book. It might be a problem with the prose, almost like inserting a chapter from Dickens into a postmodern novel.

The Epilogue, which precedes the Afterword (I forgot to add that there also is a sort of Prologue after the Foreword) is pretentious. The author explains what has happened to all characters from the novel after the trajectory of the plot ended. Why not leave things to the reader’s imagination? And the Afterword itself - the novel should speak for itself; do we really need the author to explain it?

Other than that “Walking the Perfect Square” is a good read. Great title, length below 250 pages, well-drawn characters, clever ending, incisive portrayal of arrogance of powerful people, and other goodies abound.

Three and a half stars.

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