Connell (Lay Saints, 2012) offers a tough but touching futuristic thriller.
At an unspecified point in America’s future, Grant and Litz are released from a federal prison in Florida on the wave of a nationwide secession from the Union. Grant, in jail for a robbery that caused a murder, wants to get home to his wife, Darling, and their children in New York. Litz, locked up for arson, has “a tendency for revenge.” The two begin a perilous car journey, where they encounter a variety of characters, each with his or her own back story and unique struggle as the nation breaks apart. In New York, Darling’s brothers, Val and Wishful, load up a car with the family of the boy Grant murdered and hit the road to kill Grant before he can set eyes on Darling again. The book moves slowly, like the ex-con’s journey, but never grows dull, and pieces of Grant’s past are peeled back as his story unfolds into a complicated climax. In tough, stylized prose, the characters shine with depth, heart and humor in noteworthy abundance. Grant and Litz are powerfully likable protagonists with a complex, caring relationship that grows and changes as difficulties set them further from their goals. Secession, the backdrop of the novel, seems to function mostly to provide obstacles; earlier and greater orientation to the time period and the national circumstances might make the world more comprehensible. Shorter, more clearly outlined chapters would improve the book’s structure, and a few mild sci-fi elements are left unexplained, although it’s not terribly distracting. The characters’ moving kindness and clever turns of phrase—“The traffic on I-95 North was like a stubborn child” ; “Ever met a condom you didn’t break?”—are sure to keep readers going despite the occasional bout of confusion.
Full of fury and feeling, sure to interest fans of crime novels, thrillers and alternate futures.