Monday, August 18, 2014

REVIEW: Lamentation by Joe Clifford

Joe Clifford's a cool guy. He joins the list of so many hard-working folks in the scene today who hold down jobs, edit things (like Flash Fiction Offensive, Gutter Books), do all kinds of impressive work, and somehow manage to still be absolutely brilliant writers. His blog is constantly surprising with how smart and witty he manages to be. On top of it all, every time I've had correspondence with the man he has been kind, thoughtful, interesting, and funny. He's a kind of Pulp Renaissance Man.

Like I said, dude's all over the place...
His third novel, Lamentation, is hitting in October from Oceanview Publishing. I was recently fortunate enough to be able to read a review copy of it. When I starting reading though, I had a tough time with it. Not because its poorly written. It's incredible. I guess what held me back was how honest and real the book is. Lamentation is a hell of a book.

There are relationships at the heart of Lamentation. Jay Porter, the main character, is a guy just trying to get by in New Hampshire. One of these relationships is with his ex-girlfriend Jenny and their two year old son. The other relationship, however, is with his drug-addled older brother Chris. You might say that the latter defines the former and most other relationships in Jay's life. The novel opens with Jay having to bail his brother out once again, something the reader senses that Jay has to do a lot of. Jay describes his brother after picking him up:

"In the five or six months since I'd seen him last, he appeared to have lost weight. I'd seen cancer patients with more meat on their bones. Over six feet, he couldn't have weighed more than a buck forty. Despite the long time apart, I felt no joy in our reunion. I'm pretty sure the feeling was mutual."

Over the course of this reunion, Jay discovers that Chris is in trouble yet again. Chris's business partner has been found dead and the fingers are pointing at his way. Jay once again steps up to try to help his brother. What unfolds sets off a chain reaction of violence and corruption that will leave everyone changed for better or worse.

The incredible thing about Lamentation is Clifford's ability to balance the different things that the novel tries to do. It has just the right amount of action, just the right amount of mystery, just the right amount of humor -- all wrapped up in small town reality. The novel packs a punch and it's a fun read. Clifford keeps the pages turning. However, it's not exploitative or contrived. Bad things happen because bad things happen and these particular bad things are unfortunately all too real. The ending of the novel is neither oppressively bleak nor unrealistically optimistic. Joe Clifford has quite a novel on his hands and it is one that he should be very proud of. More than that, it is a novel that you should mark the release date on your calendar for. If you like stuff like Hustle by Tom Pitts, you are going to like this. It's a book that stays with you.

When you're done, go over to Joe's blog and bug him about when his next book is going to be out. Tell him The Chronicler sent you.

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