CHEAP TICKET TO HEAVEN by Charlie Smith

CHEAP TICKET TO HEAVEN

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KIRKUS REVIEW

 This powerfully imagined tale of a contemporary Bonnie and Clyde displays Smith's (Chimney Rock, 1993, etc.) furious overplotting and near-genius for lyrical intensity in just about equal measure. Jack Baker and Clare Manigault, a married pair who've been robbing banks and exploring their own commingled eroticism and lawlessness throughout 18 years together, are portrayed during their climactic odyssey through the South and Midwest--back to ``the evil spirit'' of her family that Clare fears and the vortex of suicidal hatred that dominated Jack's childhood. Smith's plot is driven by the lust for revenge exhibited by Clare's father, Francis, determined to hunt down the bastard son who murdered his ``legal'' half-brother, and by the avaricious malice of Donnie Bernardnick, a philosophical ex-con who schemes to draw Jack back into his destructive orbit. These, and others who surround them and sometimes become their victims, are drawn with sure broad strokes. They are looming grotesques whose inmost fears and desires are analyzed with a passionate urgency reminiscent, believe it or not, of Dostoyevsky: That's how good Smith can be when he's at his best. He's superb on the turmoil of motives that make Jack (in his own words) ``an obscure functionary in the cavalcade of crime.'' (Clare, by contrast, is comparatively opaque--seen essentially as Jack sees her.) We catch ourselves wishing Jack weren't portrayed as quite so self-probingly articulate; yet Smith's point has to do with the varieties of criminal experience and the different places such wholesale surrender to the demands of the id can take us. Violent acts and deaths abound here; some are so outrÇ that they are almost unintentionally comic. Almost. The book stares you down, dares you to laugh. Even the most willing reader may have trouble initially entering Smith's fever-pitched world. Once you're hooked, though, you're in it for the duration. This unforgettably vivid account of a dangerous journey is a real trip.

Pub Date: Aug. 16th, 1996
ISBN: 0-8050-3797-7
Page count: 336pp
Publisher: Henry Holt
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15th, 1996




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