By Matt Phillips
Calvin Redbone’s life is pretty monotonous. He wakes up, swings his Louisville slugger, walks to work, and eight hours later, comes back home. His life would’ve stayed this way if not for one horrible day that uproots everything. And when things change, Redbone becomes unhinged.
Prose first. In this department, this book deserves a full five-stars. Phillips’ way with words is wonderful and gritty. He paints sharp, cutting scenes with a main character that is full and rough. Beyond that, he peppers the action with tight quips, imagining a very true world through a very discerning set of eyes: Calvin Redbone’s. There were so many stellar lines I had a hard time choosing my examples below. Trust me, there are many more.
“He smacked his lips and laughed. It was a wild, animal-like chuckle that danced from his throat and died somewhere near the distant hilltop ridges.”
“That’s how life was to him. It was a big machine that fell apart over the years.”
“…used to reflect images back at the audience in their American-made shells. Well, cars used to be mostly American-made, but not anymore.”
“The world, for the most part, is made up of people who are willing to call other people by the right names. It’s just everybody kissing each others’ asses.”
Those last couple ones are particularly important. They set the tone to this novella. It’s the author’s first attempt at a longer piece, and in my opinion, he does a remarkable job. Despite the main storyline revolving around a mysterious death, the true meat of this tale is the slow breakdown of the titular character. He’s an old breed like those tough guys from long ago but now lives in a world that has moved forward without him.
Then why did I not give it a full five-stars? It’s definitely not because it’s a slow read. Phillips has structured it well enough to keep you reading. It took me three days, and that was only because I had little time to spare. I’m sure most could’ve read it faster.
My main qualm came with Redbone himself. I am not this man. I will never be able to sympathize with his woes and defeats. Each person makes their own choices. I believe that, but Redbone sees things differently. Though i may not be like Redbone, I know many that are, many that think the world owes them something and has screwed them out of their due. In this way, I admire what the author has done but find it hard to admire his protagonist.
I’ve read this author’s earlier stuff and can say he is graduating quickly into some seriously good writing. It is wonderful to see such quick growth. In this book, too, he bounds forward in his first longer piece. It’s good, and you should read it if only to get in on the ground floor. This book is a triple play to which I’m certain a homerun is coming soon in this author’s future.
If you like to see a man and his life come apart, then this book is for you. This book shines in Calvin’s slow psychological breakdown. Every step is vivid and believable, which is no small feat. I cannot get over how fun each sentence is, from a writing standpoint. In fact, it smacks of such stark reality that I wouldn’t find it far-fetched to hear of this story in many local papers around America. The little man is stepped on, and in his anger, isn’t so little anymore.