Written by: James Keen
“I’ll see you in your dreams.” – Norman Partridge. Slippin’ Into Darkness.
The year is 1994, the month is April and in this novel’s period of twenty four hours Norman Partridge relates this ridiculously engaging tale of revenge, loss and the awful consequences of unacknowledged guilt with commendable panache. It’s a fiendishly constructed third-person narrative that takes the ingredients of a well-worn premise, twisted character motivation, emotionally stirring prose and manages to serve up a satisfying literary dish that is by turns thrilling, repulsive and ultimately horrifying.
The author begins with an after-midnight depiction of an eerie game of ‘graveyard baseball’ with a deliberately mysterious sole participant hurling beer bottles, not balls, at the tombstone of one, ‘April Louise Destino. April 1 1958 – April 1 1994’. It’s a dark moody opening that closes with a disturbing flourish, setting the grim tone and sprightly literary rhythm for what is to follow. Partridge then shifts the book to a generic suburban Californian locale and we’re given a quick study of the mid-thirties camera-shrewd, coke-snorting Marvis ‘Shutterbug’ Hanks, an insular character with a lucrative commercial trade in home-produced movies of the lurid kind, those most notably involving under-age girls. He’s interrupted in his latest late night ‘impromptu’ filming session with a fifteen year old huckster-type by the insistent sound of thumping at his living room window: “And then it was there – in the background on the other side of the nearly opaque window…Someone was out there. Someone who laughed….Marvis couldn’t see eyes, but he knew the stranger was watching him.”. A suitably arresting start and a sinister augur for what is to come.
Though we begin in 1994, it’s the awful events that played out some sixteen years before that haunt the characters here; a disgustingly unpleasant episode that echoes interminably for those involved. In that sense Partridge evokes the same sense of accumulating dread that can be found in Straub’s ‘Ghost Story’, King’s ‘It’ and to a lesser extent, Frank Norris’ ‘McTeague’. Partridge, at one point, has a character observing, “…the whole thing was David Lynch weird’ and while that quote is certainly plausibly indicative of the confluence of seemingly ‘odd’ circumstances Partridge describes, it’s arguable that his book has its more recognizable antecedents in the Coen brother’s superlative movie, ‘Blood Simple’. The author has constructed a veritable ‘house of cards’ narratively speaking; only in this instance he’s used super-glue instead of physics to bind the conceit together.
Partridge divides the book up into four quarters, each subdivided by a time-stamp, detailing an aspect of each of the cast of characters he economically defines. The use of poetry such as T.S. Eliot, Poe, Yeats and Shakespeare to preface the ‘chapters’ serves as an oblique underscoring of the book’s overall themes; regret, contemplation, yearning and realization. This is a book that plays with the readers expectations and certainly delights in altering predictably obvious results. In this manner Partridge shares something of kinship with other notable stalwarts of the genre, specifically Joe R Lansdale, Peter Straub and, though admittedly outside this literary type, Elmore Leonard. The author’s obvious awareness and subsequent avoidance of hackneyed tropes is one of the book’s endearing pleasures.
After the deliberately confusing first quarter of the novel, Partridge-having ‘set his stage’- proceeds to carefully accelerate the plot, with nary a red herring in sight but the writer has perhaps populated his narrative with too many unnervingly contemptible characters. The author also stumbles with one or two minor contrivances – there’s a curious instance in which one character, ‘Ozzy Austin’, appears to develop an almost animal-like sense of smell that leads him to a significantly plot-dependant event, which comes off as being overly calculating on the part of the writer. That said, this is an enormously satisfying read, with perhaps one minor niggling caveat: it’s all over far too soon.
Pick up your copy of Slippin’ Into Darkness right here.