Smith tells the story of a shooting victim who decides to become a cop in this debut novel.
Terry Woods, 22, works at a series of temp jobs that never lead to permanent employment. He lives at home with his workaholic mother, who harangues him to find a real career, and his teenage brother, Joe, who tries to shirk his own responsibilities. Things aren’t great for Terry, but they get a lot worse one fateful night when he’s assaulted by two men walking home from a KFC. Terry hands over some money, but it’s not enough for the muggers: “I hear two bullets being fired off and I feel one hit me in the chest and one bouncing off my right shoulder.” Terry survives the shooting, but the brush with death clarifies what he wants out of life. He decides to become a police officer in order to try to prevent such violent acts from happening to members of his Milwaukee neighborhood, which has seen its living standard deteriorate in recent years. Some people in Terry’s circle are suspicious of the police’s ability to treat African-Americans fairly, but Terry, who’s African-American himself, thinks that he can bring a degree of equity to the profession. When his mother gets laid off from work, he feels even more urgency to be successful, although difficulties at the police academy make him consider giving up. Terry must push himself in order to fulfill his dream and finally win some justice for his community, his family, and himself.
Smith writes in a simple, conversational style that’s easy to follow. However, there’s sometimes a sloppiness to the prose that detracts from the overall reading experience, as in this repetitious line that also appears to be missing a word: “On the way to the club, we listen to [a] variety of artists and before we know it, we are arriving at the club.” Although the novel is less than 150 pages long, much of its text is wasted on wooden exchanges of dialogue that have nothing to do with the main plotline (“Larry Sanders had twenty-five points and seventeen rebounds.” “He has been playing some great basketball lately.” “If he keeps playing like this, Sanders might make the All-Star team.”) The story proceeds in this lethargic manner for most of its duration before finally attempting some narrative movement in the final pages. Much of the overall page count, though, is taken up with unnecessary accounts of Terry’s mundane tasks; although Terry is shot on Page 18, he doesn’t interview for a police job until Page 100. Overall, the book doesn’t fit easily into any genre; there’s not enough criminal activity to call it a crime novel, but the author doesn’t develop the characters or their motivations well enough to make it work as literary fiction. The ending is predictable and poorly executed, which will leave the reader with none of the emotional satisfaction that the book’s title promises.
A bare-bones police story that never gets going.