Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Noteworthy Reads: THAT'S HOW I ROLL by Andrew Vachss

           The story of Esau Till will shock you. It will sadden and anger you. It will disturb, perhaps even frighten you. But as you are reading it and experiencing these emotions, you will not be able to put the book down. And after you've finished it, when you do put it down, it will stay with you.
            That is the power of Andrew Vachss's writing.
            It is there in all of his work, but has seldom been displayed better or with greater impact than in THAT'S HOW I ROLL.
            The novel is set within the frame of Esau telling his life story from Death Row. He makes it clear that this is neither a confession nor apology, simply a statement of facts recounting the events that brought him to this point. It is also a statement geared—as so much in his life has been—toward protecting his younger brother Tory.
            Both Esau and Tory are the product of a forced incestuous relationship between their father—an abusive monster who Esau refers to as the Beast—and older sister. As Esau puts it, "When your sister is your mother, too, you know you're not going to come out right. Not you, not your life, not nothing."
Initial evidence of this comes in the form of Esau being born with spina bifida, paralyzed from the waist down; Tory is physically flawless but mentally slow. The one advantage Esau does have, however, is a genius IQ. It is this that he puts to work with laser-focused intensity to makes things better for Tory and him and, above all, to prepare Tory for life after Esau is gone. To do this, once they are free of the Beast after he's been executed for killing their sister, Esau channels his intellect into becoming a highly sophisticated explosives expert working for the two crime bosses who split control of the surrounding territory.
Esau shrewdly plays both sides against the middle with the crime bosses and, ultimately, with the law—all for the sake of maintaining his all-consuming commitment to protect and make a better life for Tory. Although spawned from depraved evil and forced by circumstances to become cold and ruthless in most other aspects of his life, the true, pure love that Esau feels for his brother is the driving force and solid central core to this complex, intricately plotted novel.
 The rural setting—an unnamed coal mining community, presumably in the southeast—is an interesting change from Vachss's usual urban backgrounds. He captures it masterfully with his trademark spare descriptive prose and peoples it with memorable, convincing, fully realized characters … many of whom you would never want to meet, yet nevertheless will be mesmerized to read about.
Respect, honor, and loyalty are recurring themes in Vachss's work. Combined with the warning that if we fail to protect the most innocent victims of our society—the children—we risk failing to protect ourselves from those who may become increasingly more violent victimizers.  
THAT'S HOW I ROLL is one of Andrew Vachss's best books yet—and that's saying a lot. In Esau Till, he has created one of his most fascinating characters. You will have to decide for yourself whether Esau is a victim or victimizer—or perhaps both. Either way, I guarantee you will not soon forget him or his story.
Strongly recommended.

A new novel by my friend Andrew Vachss is always a special event. This one is certainly no exception. I hope you check it out, I think you'll agree.
Persevere --- WD

1 comment:

Richard Prosch said...

The first Vachss novel I read was HARD CANDY --long, long ago. But just like yesterday. Because you're right, man. Vachss stays with you forever. Great review.