Wednesday, January 05, 2011

A COLD NIGHT FOR ALLIGATORS by Nick Crowe from the ARC (due Feb 8, 2011) Knopf Canada

First time novelist Nick Crowe, one of Random House/Knopf Canada's New Faces of Fiction for 2011, opens his tale with a scene that will be a familiar worry to many city commuters, at least those who travel to and from work as I do along the subterranean trail of the TTC. Our 20-something narrator Jasper observes with curiosity a man on the subway platform. And the scratch at the back of his brain tells him to be wary, but not before this stranger pushes him into the charging path of the incoming train.

Seven months later Jasper wakes up from a coma and becomes preoccupied with the disappearance of his older brother Coleman 10 years previous. On his birthday Jasper receives a phone call, but on the other end of the line there's only silence. Not ready to return to work, he embarks upon a southward journey with unconventional companions, Donny (Jasper's ex-girlfriend's devout new flame) and Duane who are planning to participate in a fishing derby en route to Florida where Jasper hopes beyond hope to get a trail on Coleman.

Eventually reunited with his mom's sister, Aunt Val, and her lazy, meth-addled and brutal husband Rolly Lee, Jasper begins to discover that his past perceptions that protected him through the lens of childhood memory are not necessarily reliable.

Through flashbacks of his family vacations to Florida where "watching the sunrise from the back of a station wagon... is a very fine thing indeed" and memories of Coleman's idiosyncracies before he disappeared, Jasper moves closer to the emotional truth and comes face to face with loss in his life.

A COLD NIGHT FOR ALLIGATORS made me squeamish at times with its moments of gratuitous violence, but I couldn't put the book down.

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