The problem about secrets is that they want to get out. They are creations of the sin, and their confession only brings them life and gives them substance – no matter how dark and horrific they truly were.
Rabbit wasn’t the type to seek absolution, and yet the attractive man across the table was different, more sympathetic, and he could see that much in those pale blue eyes staring back at him. We all think we’re hiding our secrets, but in reality our secrets are hiding us.
This is the story of two very different men, and how they deal with their desire and sexual attraction against the backdrop of senseless mayhem and murder. Whatever made each one tick became their individual abnormality, and always with the question lingering in the air between them like stagnated smoke…was it reasonable to care for someone as badly broken as Cole Holder? And how might it end right, when it’d been so damned wrong from the very beginning?
Unfortunately, I could not finish this book. I made it the 39% mark according to my ereader before I threw in the towel. Right off the bat, I noticed a few typos and poor comma usage. Generally, these are minor irritations. However, the first-person narration really suffered in terms of coherence because the narrator seems prone to word salad-type narration.
A major hurdle for me was the near constant tense flipping. Tense isn’t usually a huge make-or-break element in story telling; however, it took me nine chapters to eventually figure out the narrator is currently incarcerated (i.e. in the “present”) and recounting events prior to (and leading up to) his incarceration (i.e. in the “past”). It just took me so long to realize this because on page, there are multiple tense switches in single chapters, single paragraphs, single sentences. At first, I didn’t even realize I was supposed to be reading something like it was a flashback.
The first nine chapters were narrated by a character named Cole Holder, alias Rabbit. The next few chapters (at least until I gave up) were narrated by someone whose name I never learned, but apparently has psychology credentials and has reason to interview Holder. Based on the official blurb, these two hit it off. It’s clear enough on page that the psychologist character does feel for Holder, though I didn’t make it far enough to understand why. The shift in narration was a huge problem for me mainly because I has absolutely zero idea there even had been a change. When chapter ten starts with a line akin to “His name was Cole Holder,” I thought it was the serial killer introducing us to yet another mark of his. In point of fact, this was apparently supposed to mark the introduction of the psychologist character. To be clear, there was zero mention of the serial killer’s name or pseudonyms during any of the chapters the serial killer was the narrator. This switch also could not have been marked by a change in tense because tense was so poorly utilized in the preceding nine chapters, it was not a reliable indicator of any change to me as a reader.
Insofar as the first chunk of the book is meant to be something like an autobiography, I can (in retrospect) understand why the writing was so poor if Clark was hoping to capture Holder’s voice. Perhaps it was intentional that Holder’s narration is riddled with grammar and punctuation mistakes and purple prose. That said, there were a lot of usage errors that just left me wondering what exactly the narrator was trying to convey. A brief sampling (emphasis mine):
I am happy to confess it was a lesson, although hard-earned, was educated over time.
You might have noticed the edges of ink from a tattoo brandishing a particular area above the bone. (Misuse of the verb “to brandish”)
We are all victims of countless bully’s… (plural mistake)
But long before I could fall into that cataclysm and remembered what it had to be like to take the gunslinger’s life. (I believe “cataclysm” is supposed to be “chasm” but beyond that, the sentence as a whole does not make sense, it reads like two dependent clauses without any subject to latch on to).
Incidentally, all of these examples are from the first chapter. There are copious amounts of punctuation errors as well. Wonky comma usage is not usually a huge issue for me, but with so much word salad coming from our narrator, extraneous and absent commas did not improve readability. I also found myself annoyed at consistent mispunctuation of…a lot of things. One of the most glaring was the treatment of embedded questions.
When did bars begin to need patios I asked myself?
“So how long we gonna hang out before we leave together to screw”, I asked sheepishly? (Yes, the comma is outside the end-quote and the question mark appears after the part where the speech is attributed to the narrator.)
Again, I suppose some of this may be intended to convey a certain image about the narrator, but some of these same mistakes are repeated when the psychologist narrator takes over. The straw that broke my back was a scene where the psychologist is going over his copious notes from his meeting(s?) with Holder. The on-page presentation is such that it was impossible for me to understand whether the psychologist was merely re-reading his notes or remembering a dialogue or posing rhetorical questions to himself or what.
There seems to be a lot of potential here and I was attracted to the impossible situation of one character being incarcerated and the other being free. Unlike a previous book I reviewed with a similar set up (The Psychopath), the incarcerated character in Wretched Little Lives goes to great pains to detail exactly how much of a killer he is. I didn’t get far enough to appreciate how or why the psychologist might find something to sympathize with, but even in the two chapters I read from his POV, it was clear he found something compelling about Holder. Personally, I could not follow the story easily given the writing style, but if my difficulties as noted above don’t seem like issues for you and this type of setup is appealing, you may still enjoy this story.