Wednesday, February 29, 2012

The Next Right Thing

Posted by Kurt

I really didn't expect to finish this book. My impression for the first few chapters was, "Wow, this is like a regular bad airport paperback, but with added preachy Recovery jargon." Characters bounce around the various settings, not so much having conversations as quoting from the Big Book at each other. Even when they aren't spouting proverbs from 12-step programs, the dialogue is simply horrendous (for example, a young woman bursts into a scene to stop someone from hitting her friend, and when the potential aggressor asks if he knows her, she responds, "You should. Because a******s like you have been stepping on my feet and ramming pencils up my nose since before I knew what feet and pencils were. You've got a big f*****g truck where your soul should be, and you want to drive it over someone, but you can't because it's encased in flesh and you would die if you tried." I'm serious. This dialogue is presented as realistic for the situation. If you buy this book, then you are paying for this dialogue.

Which is a shame, because the book does get a great deal better once Barden uses up his collection of inane 12-step quotes and lets his characters reveal themselves as.. not quite fascinating, but definitely readable. The story picks up some great notes from Raymond Chandler's The Long Goodbye, another noir story about a man mourning and examining a deep friendship. The last half of this book really is worth reading - it's not exactly a whodunit, more of a "why did it happen" mystery, and when he uses his own words, Barden can really break your heart. There are some brutal emotional moments when characters open up to each other during their Fifth Steps, and I really got a sense of why various 12-step programs are so powerful for recovery. By the last chapter, I enjoyed the story and the characters, and I wish an editor had stepped in to force Barden to clean up the horrendous dialogue in the beginning so that more readers will stay with the book long enough for the good payoffs.

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