Thursday, 12 April 2012
Review: Finger's Breadth by M Christian
This story isn't a romance, although in many ways love, sex and desire are at the heart of the story. It's classified as a horror by the publishers, but don't let that put you off as there's very little of the blood and gore which some people might associate with the word horror. Instead this is a psychological horror, where we look into the minds of the characters and how they are adversely affected by the events in the book. If I were to set out a summary, it would be to call the book a study in fear and a sort of mass hysteria among the gay population of San Francisco, which touches on the themes of insecurity, desirability, fitting in, being special but also alienation, peer pressure and self-hatred.
The book is set in the not too distant future and deals with a crime, or a series of crimes. Someone is targeting gay men by drugging them and then cutting off the tip of their little finger. This sends the gay community into hiding as fear sweeps through them. Like many horrors there's a bogeyman in the form of 'Cutter' who sets the scene and infuses the book with a growing sense of unease but who, in this case, is ultimately sidelined for something more chilling. In the end the book is not about Cutter at all as he becomes a mere catalyst for the events of the book.
The story circles around, weaving between characters with some aspects resolved and some not, with very little being as it first seems. At the heart of the story are four main characters: Fanning, who is a sort of freelance police officer charged with catching the man responsible for the mutilations; Varner, a journalist who was the first victim; Taylor, an victim of a botched copy cat crime who becomes deeply agoraphobic as a result; and Dibney, who may or may not be Cutter. As well as these four, the story dips in and out of other characters and as such there is a wide list of characters and situations, some of which are shown as mere snapshots through a variety of means. Story and action is intermingled with sections from internet chat rooms, emails, website articles, snatches of conversations, and scenes in clubs and bars. Most of these minor characters are only given names (or some not at all) and appear briefly for a few pages before disappearing, never to be seen again. The effect of this was that it built up a picture of a collective consciousness of gay men which added to the pervasive chill which permeates the story but is also frustratingly fragmented for the reader.
In many ways this book is an ironic satire on the gay community in SF. Most of the men are portrayed as shallow individuals looking for the next hedonistic experience. There's an ongoing theme of men who are bored with "sucking and fucking", and who are wanting more, something which makes them unique, even whilst conversely they strive to fit in with the crowd. Even the men in happy, stable relationships are affected by the events in the book, being shown as essentially unfulfilled with love not being enough to satisfy them. It was a rather biting indictment of the gay community as a whole as they get caught up in the 'next big thing'.
The reader is treated to a story full of smoke and mirrors, lies and deceits. Just when I thought I had a handle on a character, things would change and all that I thought I knew was suddenly different, or just wrong. It kept me on my toes as a reader, made me think. It was very, very clever and I admired the skill of the author a number of times as I read.
There were some negatives about the story. I didn't find the book to be a page turner, mainly because it was the sort of book I had to work at. I often had to stop and think things through about the story and there wasn't the drive or compulsion that I feel with some books to go back to it. It wasn't an easy book to get into because of the fragmented narrative, which added to my problems, but I did feel that the pace picked up towards the end and I finished the final third quite quickly. Another problem with the narrative was that it was difficult to become wholly immersed in the story and characters because just as I settled into a scene of character it was snatched away and the story moved to someone different. Finally some of the stylistic features used in the book were a little self-indulgent and I found them irritating. However, I can imagine some readers may find them clever.
This was rather a difficult story to grade. I thought it challenging reading for someone like me who doesn't often have their mind stretched and as such it may not appeal to some readers. It was a thoughtful, intellectual book with many layers which I had fun sorting through. The tone was varied, at times being very tongue in cheek and other times sad, morose and tragic. However, the fact that it didn't wholly grab my attention, and that if I hadn't had it for review I possibly wouldn't have got past the first 30 pages makes me give this book a grade of 'Very Good'. Readers who love post-modernist fiction will like this one, as did I for the opportunity for a change of pace and genre.
Buy this book HERE.