Tuesday, December 16, 2008

"Serpent Girl" by Matthew Carnahan

One of the best things about working in a library is getting a chance to look at books that people have checked out from other branches, seeing things I wouldn't ordinarily know anything about. This little debut novel is exactly one of those things; a patron had checked it out from our "main" branch (also known as "the big library") and returned it at our little building. She said it was pretty weird, not really her style, which, of course, made us want to read it all that more. My coworker got her hands on it first, then it was my turn (after Hubby Dearest got his hands on it!). It's an interesting little work, all of 199 pages, and really not a word wasted. The style reminds me a bit of Charlie Huston, and if you follow this blog at all, you know I'm mighty impressed with his stuff.

Bailey Quinn is a 22-year-old headed to hell. He regains consciousness in the middle of the desert with pretty much no memory of how he got there, why his throat hurts so much, or why he's naked. Slowly it all comes back to him...his "friends" stabbed him in the back. They literally cut his throat. And they took off with the money that they had all stolen, but it was Bailey that worked out the con and put it all together. He wants his money back, with interest, and he wants to teach his so-called friends a lesson. But it's not going to be easy.

The Freaks are on his tail, and they want blood.

See, Bailey used to work for the circus. Not Barnum and Bailey, the good one, the clean one, the one with the best performers and animals. No, he hooked up with a second-rate outfit, one that gets all of B&B's hand-me-downs and castoffs. It's currently being run by the Freaks, real circus freaks that are also freaky in that they do drugs, cook drugs, beat the animals, have sex with just about anyone and each other, and do some very, very shady accounting. Bailey catches on to the fact that the circus is pretty much a cash-only business, ripe for a theft of several thousands of dollars. He starts working on getting in good with Eelie, the Serpent Girl, because she's the one that knows everything about the circus's financial set-up. Eelie was born without arms or legs, using her flipper of sorts to move around on her skateboard from place to place. Bailey realizes that she's not very happily married and uses that angle to work his plan.

But Bailey is the one getting worked - he falls in love with Eelie, and she with him. And we all know what happens when a woman is scorned, don't we? Thus the wild adventure that Bailey has trying to find his "buds" and his money. He may find more than he bargained for. And he may not live through it, either.

This is a really good debut, one that again, doesn't mince words. I sort of wanted a bit more background on Bailey and some of the other characters, but the more I think about it, it's probably best that Carnahan left it as terse as he did. Do we really need to know about Bailey's childhood, why he hangs out with the sort of people he does, why he lives a life of "copping free" (stealing stuff), why he's into drugs? Not really. A lesser writer probably would have explored that angle, and I think the story would have been worse for it. I'm anxious to find out if Carnahan has done anything since this book; if he has, keep your eyes here, because I'm sure to post about it.

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