I can remember when Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow came out and suddenly the kind of book that I loved to read was mainstream. Not for long though, and one of the annoyances of the massive explosion in literary styles and experimental writing is that while more varied (and more variable) writing is now more readily available than ever before, finding it isn’t always easy. Not the good stuff, anyway. The other stuff … well when you’ve read one Cthulhu/Kirk slash story you’ve read them all, believe me!
So Craig Terlson’s Correction Line fell neatly into the basket of uncatogorisable but good fiction: it’s inclined to the noir end of the spectrum but balances its deadpan violence and lowlife characters with a skewed surrealist palette of unlikely but linked events, and unlovely but compelling individuals. Set in a landscape where correction lines are necessary to balance the endless gridlines of prairie roads, the narrative introduces and abandons a disparate group of characters, only to bring them together again in bewildering and off-putting encounters that tighten around a central theme: the power of a single individual to affect, through time and distance, the lives of others.
One of the fascinating elements of Terlson’s story is that the reader’s perspective on which individual is most affecting the lives of others changes as the story progresses. Apparently strong characters become weak and ineffectual, apparently weak ones demonstrate surprising talents, from endurance to psychic powers, and all of them struggle with, move through and become lost in a landscape that is wholly indifferent to them.
While Terlson’s cool observational style has echoes of Simenon or Elmore Leonard, the jagged narrative style both explicitly and implicitly creates disturbance in the reader – the underdog becomes a perpetrator and the bully becomes a victim, in fact only Delta—the actual dog—and Lucy, the woman around whom the plot tightens like a wire trap, remain consistent and coherently themselves throughout events. In addition, every character’s view of events is skewed: by drugs, by illness, by the desire to see what they want to see, by disillusion or by the effect of another, more powerful mind, upon their own. It’s road trip meets flashback, with a touch of paranoid conspiracy and more than a touch of dark dystopian fantasy.
At one point Roy, who has been dragged into the unstoppable vortex of events by apparent accident, becomes aware of the distorted nature of his own thinking, ‘everything was unfocused, oil on the lens of his brain’ and at that point, paradoxically, he has more clarity about the situation than at any other time.
Sometimes brutal, often demanding and always complex, this novel will repay the reader who likes their assumptions challenged and is happy to walk away from a book with minor questions unanswered but the big ones definitely dealt with! It’s likely to satisfy those who enjoy Hammet and/or Philip K Dick and who like their fiction very noir indeed.
Labels: book review, Correction Line, Craig Terlson, noir novels, novel review