Dweez is not haunting, he’s a hauntologist.
“’Somebody! Help me please! Help me!’ These roaring loud screams of desperation have replaced his favorite club hit. Stop, drop, and roll becomes an elementary lie to him. The screams only worsen the situation. For each inhale he takes for the next scream, carbon monoxide finds a new spot in his lungs. Judging from the melting plastic on his feet, those sneaks were counterfeit. Fear sends fecal matter running down the side of his Girbaud jeans.” –Ural Garrett, Thanking Evil, page 60
My mother recently rode the train from Santa Monica to Downtown Los Angeles. This is worth noting for two reasons:
1) It hasn’t previously been possible in her 60+ years of living (Phase II of the Exposition Line metro extension opened at the end of May).
2) She was exposed to a less-than-courteous rap music enthusiast (“It was just rude, it made everyone uncomfortable.”)
On her better days, my mother is as empathetic and kind as they make ‘em. This musical offense, small as it may be to her on a better day, was too much to take.
“I just really wanted to say,” she recounted later. “Hey buddy, would you mind turning it down a little?”
My mother and the rest of Los Angeles, or at least those joining the ranks of the metro ridership for the first time, are being confronted with a truth those in major cities across the world have long known: when you live in a city and take public transportation you gotta deal with other people in it.
Ural Garrett’s debut novel, Thanking Evil, imagines what a weekend would be like if you could go about that dealing however you saw fit. Namely, what does a bargain with the devil mean for the minor and major offenders in daily life? I, kitten-soft as my Ma’ myself, wouldn’t necessarily be prone to siding with evil but I’ve never been in the protagonist Patcher Smith’s shoes until Garrett laced ‘em up for me.
Thanking Evil follows Patcher as he delivers Boondock Saints-esque vigilante justice in a gritty, unforgiving cityscape reminiscent of The Vulture, released in 1970 by another novel debutant: Gil-Scott Heron. From the first chapter, when Patcher describes his taste buds (“My mouth feels as if I’ve spent the last few days snacking on rusted shower-heads,” p.6) we enter a headspace that gives new meaning to the phrase, “at the end of one’s rope.” Garrett masterfully establishes Patcher’s unlucky lot in life in a walkthrough of his job at a fast food joint and the stomach-churning conditions of the food stuff serve as great fodder for what’s to come.
We’re gradually fed Patcher’s back story until it becomes crystal clear the source of his satanic deal-wheeling. The story takes a turn from the disgruntled, cranky teen to an old-fashioned revenge mission: think Kill Bill meets Boyz N The Hood. Soon Patcher is adorning a Miller-Lite t-shirt and setting his sights on a rapper called Hallow Point who has done more wrong in the world than releasing a few mindless singles. We’re primed to see what else he does with his newly bestowed powers in the short time he’s been allowed to borrow them.
As a high-school senior, Patcher is a protagonist aged to a bookseller’s dream. Young Adult, in case you don’t read about reading, is to the bestseller lists what the superhero genre is to the box-office. The likes of Marie Lu, Veronica Roth, and Suzanne Collins have made a killing with characters in what’s branded “dystopian” worlds but Patcher, and those in his world, dare readers to redraw the lines of what a dystopia would actually look like by considering the apocalypse underway down the street. Kudos to the publisher, Over The Edge, for contributing to a much-needed YA script flipping.
The effect of Thanking Evil has against titles like Divergent and The Hunger Games is not unlike the effect Q’s Blank Face or YG’s Still Brazy has against Coloring Book, but as important for omnivorous genre heads. Satan and OTE, at least, know no one needs another awkward teenage romance saga from John Green either. Bless his soul.
For all that Garret and his publisher get right, there are a few basic features of Thanking Evil that should have received more attention. There are numerous point-of-view shifts during the story that, when unannounced, are disruptive to the reading process and take us away from being in the saddle with Patcher. Elsewhere the writing seems impatient; delivering chunks of exposition in places where a scene, flashback, or conversation might function better.
Patcher’s digressions (sometimes about subsidiary characters’ backstories like a coworker at HD Chicken) and asides (philosophical musings about society at large or the addictive nature of certain drugs) can be excused as character building but there are certain corrections that even a good line-edit would have remedied.
There is some confusion about whether Patcher is telling the story in past or present tense. For example, on page 30, we’re given, “Above his head is a large steel cross that hangs suspended by metal chains connected to anchors drilled in to the wall. It was gorgeous.” Either the cross ‘hangs’ above his head and it ‘is’ gorgeous or it ‘hung’ above his head and it ‘was’ gorgeous. It sounds nit-picky in isolation but this happens too often for it to be cast aside as a mere copy-edit oversight.
At only 89 pages and all the space in the world (as of now, Thanking Evil is an electronic-only release) there was plenty of room to fix these issues in this Novella. At the very least, the flow of the final book would have benefited a great deal from taking the extra time to have consistent tenses and points of view. These issues don’t detract from the value of the story but could damage its credibility in the marketplace.
But Should You Read It?
There’s an exemplary passage in Thanking Evil, quoted in the intro above, where Patcher comes across the same noise polluting citizen my mother did on her train ride. For Patcher, this public nuisance is just another unlucky soul in his way. It’s not a spoiler to divulge that the sick pleasure derived from his fate is not unlike what we feel when we see a theater full of Nazis getting the business in Tarantino’s Inglorious Bastards or even the wide smiles spread across the faces of those celebrating in the streets at the news of Bin Laden’s death.
Maybe these are the times where we are permitted to thank evil: when the justice that man or God couldn’t serve is delved out by the devil herself (as is the case in Garret’s story).
Through Patcher, Garrett invites us to explore what we would do to those we loath — whether momentarily on the bus or throughout a career’s worth of despicable raps — if there were no consequences and we had the power to bend the universe. On these grounds, it’s easy to see past what could be considered Garrett’s rookie manuscript blunders and be absorbed by his tale that taps into the dark places in ourselves most of us would rather pretend didn’t exist.
I applaud Garrett for allowing us to thank that little piece. Our evil endures. I can’t wait to see what he’s saved for Volume II.
Page numbers are taken from Thanking Evil, 2016, Over The Edge Books. That was the edition reviewed.