A NATIVE'S TONGUE by Michael D. Dennis


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Dennis’ debut is a dark drama about a Los Angeles man’s apparent indecision between a rich older woman and a young girl, which leads to a tragic event and someone in prison.

Charlie, a hapless short-order cook, doesn’t do much beyond drinking and showing up at work. This changes when he meets Violet at a party. The 40-something woman, who’s had success in real estate, is 12 years his senior, but the two spend all of their time together. Though Violet showers Charlie with gifts, he soon grows weary of her demanding all of his attention. His eyes wander to a 20-year-old woman, and though their encounter is brief (and he doesn’t even get her name), Charlie eventually sets out to find his “dream girl.” The younger woman, Jennifer, is depressed and has low self-esteem. She seems a perfect fit for Charlie, whose mother was recently hospitalized and who still mourns for Wendy, the baby sister he lost to an accident four years ago. But an incident affects all three in the love triangle with unpleasant consequences. This bleak, often somber, surprisingly effective mystery opens with Jennifer visiting inmate Violet, who claims that she was the only one of the two women “he” loved. It flashes back to Charlie’s perspective before he’s met either woman. The lives of the main cast are nothing short of dreary: They’ve each had or are having problems with drugs (Jennifer takes enough Xanax that she passes out in the jail’s parking lot), and the prison shrink diagnoses Violet as bipolar. Despite Violet’s desire to control Charlie and the probability that she’s committed a serious crime, Charlie is the least sympathetic of the trio; he’s cynical about everything, from medical care to people shopping at the mall, and he has a penchant for defining others by their body weight, including his mom’s “pudgy” neighbor and various characters, like a doorman or nurse. The revelations in the final third of the book are predictable, but watching characters like Charlie, Violet and Jennifer—lost souls hoping to find themselves through someone else’s affection—is excellent, blistering drama.

A memorable tale with direct, sincere characters, though readers may want to brace themselves for a cheerless experience.

Publisher: Dog Ear Publisher
Program: Kirkus Indie
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