‘A Good Man’ by Ani Katz. TNS
In her debut novel A Good Man, Long Island native Ani Katz embraces Anton Chekhov’s theory of the unfired gun, which demands that a gun introduced in Chapter 1 must be fired by the book’s end.
Katz’s weapon of choice is a billy club, introduced in her very first sentence.
Purchased on eBay from “an amateur craftsman in War Eagle, Arkansas,” the club was “carved from Ozark red cedar” with “a nice old-fashioned look to it.”
Why was it bought? “For protection,” claims Thomas Martin, the novel’s I-narrator.
“Psychological protection at least.” That’s an eerie detail, but Thomas has lived a life full of dark elements.
Born and raised on Long Island, he endured a disturbing childhood dominated by a sinister father who struck him (once with a frying pan); sexually abused Thomas’ older sister, Eve; and generally wreaked havoc on his family, which also included Thomas’ pathologically passive-aggressive mother and his younger twin sisters who end up so emotionally damaged they never leave their mother’s highly questionable care.
Thomas’ youth was also marked by two deaths — those of his father, who was drunk when he died in a car accident, and of Eve, so emotionally scarred by her father’s abuse that she jumped to her death from a window.
Katz’s portrayal of suburban life is relentlessly sombre, which contrasts to the happy times Thomas spends in Brooklyn following college.
There he begins his lucrative career as an ad agency man working for a Manhattan firm and meets Miriam, a beautiful Parisian visiting America whom he marries.
“I called her Miri,” he reveals. “I was in love. We were in love.” And with the addition of a daughter, Ava, whom Thomas worships, the family ends up on Long Island, the site of Thomas’ disquieting youth.
But throughout the novel, action is haunted by its beginning — and the unused billy club.
Reference is made to Medea, Euripides’ classic drama in which a mother murders her children.
At the novel’s conclusion Thomas devolves emotionally until he explodes in a bloody rampage.
The billy club is finally used and Chekhov’s theory fulfilled.
And what brought on Thomas’ catastrophic breakdown?
He suffers a major setback at work when a client rejects a proposed project; then he loses his job when he is wrongly accused of sexual harassment by a co-worker whose advances he rejected.
In other words, he encounters the sort of difficult life events the average person deals with as best he can without resorting to violence.
Unfortunately, Thomas, his coping mechanisms presumably compromised by his unsettling childhood, lapses into a murderous rage.
In the end, the motivations for Thomas’ final actions are questionable if not incredulous.
Katz seems more driven to master attention-grabbing prose that might appeal to the audience who bought Gone Girl than actually to delve into the human condition.
Cynical and glib, A Good Man ultimately lacks the willingness to elucidate the despair it ostensibly endeavours to portray.Tribune News Service
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