Bill Beverly’s debut novel might be a crime novel about a murder, but this is just an excuse so we get to see the American Dream up close – or rather, what the American Dream has become.
East, a low level worker in an L.A. drug outfit is sent across country to assassinate a witness before he can give evidence against the boss. In the van along with him is Walter, a like-able clever guy who knows how to fake driver’s licences and charm older women; Michael Wilson, a chatterbox college boy; and Ty, East’s uncontrollable younger brother.
These four characters, as much as any kind of plot, drive the novel forward, coming of age as they learn about an America they never knew about, or ever had any intention of visiting:
Out here, beyond their gangland boundaries, they learn plenty – not just about what they’ll do to survive, but about how the American dream ain’t what it was:
Beverly is as economical with words as Hemingway ever was. The whole thing doesn’t have an ounce of flesh on it – it’s just muscle, bone, and sinew. In part this is because of the choice of characters: on a mission to assassinate a man, not a lot of people are going to be talking. Instead we get to see the word through East’s eyes, how he dissects people’s motivations, and understands how they’ll work together. Beverly gets us inside Easts head brilliantly to do this – I struggle to think of more complete character in literature.
The whole thing is a slow burner – I really wasn’t taken by it at first. About 200 pages in I couldn’t see where it was going, thought a whole bunch of it was a waste of time, and was just reading to get to the inevitable twist and the finale. By the final chapter, the characters have developed so much, and their understanding of the world has changed so completely, that I felt like like Beverly hadn’t done enough, that he’d made this too lightweight.
I recommend it a lot.