An elderly man and former street-gang member must confront his past in the author’s novella (National Defense, 2006, etc.), another chapter in The Vandals series.
It’s New Year’s Eve, and Jimmy is anxiously waiting for his wife, Gwen, who’s driving home in a merciless winter storm. Nostalgia creeps in as black-and-white films from his childhood pop up on TV, and he spots an old photo of his friends on the fridge. The sudden appearance of Speedo, however, a pal and one of The Vandals, is even more anxiety-inducing than the storm. Speedo died long ago. Jimmy’s friend and other formerly living acquaintances are in limbo—but have they arrived so that Jimmy can admit to past mistakes? Or do they have a more sinister purpose? Vikara’s book is designed to suit all readers; it works as an addendum for fans of The Vandals stories, as well as a worthy introduction for newcomers. The author captures Jimmy’s isolation; he’s inside a cozy home worrying about Gwen, who’s out somewhere in the icy snowstorm. Much of the novella is dialogue between Jimmy and his visitors. The discussions of prior events, including one when Jimmy may have betrayed his comrades, help add a visual quality; it’s easy to picture the oft-mentioned gunfight. The author playfully employs numerous double meanings. Some are acknowledged directly—Jimmy recognizes that his past is literally haunting him—but many are incorporated with hardly a nudge or a wink—the narrative opens with a snowy TV screen, echoing the storm; Jimmy, toasty in his socks and sweatpants, is “frozen” by surprise on more than one occasion. The novella is a quick read, but Vikara impresses by infusing feelings of helplessness for both the protagonist and a loved one and by aptly portraying a man who finds the strength to face and accept his guilt and despondent youth.
An earnest, heartfelt ghost story that’s as enveloping as warm shelter in a snowstorm.