Saturday, May 30, 2009

Nobody Move: A look at a new novel from a National Book Award winner

Here's what several well-placed sources have said about author Denis Johnson's new novel Nobody Move.

The Washington Post by Sarah Weinman
A Leading Literary Light Goes on a Crime Spree

It may seem odd that Denis Johnson has followed up on his National Book Award-winning Tree of Smoke, a sprawling novel about the Vietnam War, with its diametric opposite, a slim, blackly comic crime tale reminiscent of those published by Fawcett Gold Medal half a century ago. But John Banville made a similar move when he adopted the name Benjamin Black for his crime novels after he won the Booker Prize; Kate Atkinson refashioned her voice within the detective fiction template; and for each the change fits like a sleek leather glove. The same can't be said of Johnson, but, like his literary colleagues in crime, he displays a wicked sense of fun.

Johnson originally wrote Nobody Move for serialization in Playboy last year, which explains the narrative four-part arc of cons, scams, grifts and guns. Jimmy Luntz, an occasional barbershop quintent singer, is a small-time hood with "a Santa Anita sheet folded up in the pocket of his blinding white tux," still feeling the itch to bet despite constant disappointment. Anita Desilvera is the embodiment of the femme fatale, ready to play her trump card -- an embezzled stash of $2.3 million -- after becoming "a vagrant, a felon and a future divorcee" in a single morning. Among those zigzagging through Bakersfield looking for the money are Anita's soon-to-be-ex, a crooked judge and Jimmy, whose collision course with her sets up for a cascading-domino sequence of violence.

The brevity of this novel limits Johnson's scope, but he still has room for zinger (like a character who gets "thirty percent drunk"); observations of human nature (Anita: "Do you always talk about people like they're invisible?" Jimmy: "Usually just women"); and an extended gunfire sequence that plays like an outtake from Tree of Smoke. Nobody Move does not rank as a major work, but enjoy it for what it is: an idiosyncratic journey through familiar terrain.

Publishers Weekly

With its crackling dialogue and mercilessly bleak worldview, this stark and darkly funny chronicle of a four-way race to the bottom is a testament to Johnson's sublime sympathy for lowlifes.

Booklist by Keir Graff

Readers won't know who will win -- Will it be the ballsy gambler or the psycho...? Indeed, they may not even know who they're rooting for. But getting there is all the fun, with dry dialogue and surprising turns of phrase all adding up to something that seems both fresh and inevitable.

USA Today by Bob Minzesheimer

And now for something completely different... Nobody Move is a hard-boiled, modern shoot-em-up in which nobody's hands are clean but everyone gets great lines. Set in grittiest California, it involves a complicated embezzlement scheme. The real attractions are the dialogue and the writing. One character "wasn't wearing a Hawaiian shirt at the moment but undoubtedly possessed several."

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