Jason Starr Twisted City Reviewed by Terry D'Auray

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Twisted City

Jason Starr

Vintage Crime/Black Lizard/ Random House

US Trade Paperback Original

ISBN: 1-4000-7506-8

243 Pages; $12.00

Publication Date: July, 2004

Date Reviewed: September 30, 2004

Reviewed by: Terry D'Auray © 2004




Jason Starr has developed something of a cult following among the neo-noir crowd for his uniquely envisioned brand of urban New York noir. Unrelieved by the humor of a Scott Phillips' 'Ice Harvest', unburdened by the ultimate redemption of a Kent Harrington's 'Dia De Los Muertos', Starr's noir is pure black, inky and unmitigated. In 'Twisted City', the reader gets to watch a life flush away in the comfort of home, all the while feeling grateful that it's only a "bloody book".

David Miller, Starr's first-person narrator, has his wallet stolen one night while drinking in a New York bar, and thus begins a downward spiral into stabbings, blackmail, desperation, and ultimate depravity. Mourning the recent death of his sister, working as a low-paid hack-writer at a seedy business journal after loosing his prestigious writing job at the Wall Street Journal, and at odds with his screwed up, freeloading, never-met-a-drug-I-didn't-like girlfriend Rachael, David's life was none too elevated to begin with. As he follows an incredible and convoluted trail to retrieve his wallet, his path and his persona grow steeper, darker and progressively meaner. Starr's narrative travels in only one direction - downward.

There is little to like about protagonist David Miller. He's self-absorbed, seemingly emotionless, and unconnected to anything or anyone other than his departed sister. Based on the ill-reasoned choices he makes throughout the novel, he is either amazingly naïve or simply none too smart. Clothed in a façade of white-collar normalcy, David is anything but normal as he progresses from psycho wimp to wanton murderer, growing ever darker and ever more psychotic with each misadventure.

The supporting cast, too, is painted black. Rebecca, David's live-in girlfriend is a sexy psycho with a dark-hearted secret; David's blackmailer, Charlotte, is a heroin-addicted hooker accustomed to a life of abasement and her boyfriend is an abusive and violent thug. Co-worker Angie and David's rich Aunt Helen seem comfortably normal, which dooms them to cavalier disregard or outright cruelty in this tale. And David's departed sister Barbara, revealed in frequent flashbacks, well, she, too, has a dark secret.

Starr's prose is disarmingly matter-of-fact, devoid of descriptive flourish and wholly devoid of emotion. It is straight-forward language that contrasts starkly with the sick, slash and burn thoughts and actions of the characters. The narrative is tautly drawn and quickly paced, unraveling its unmitigated ugliness efficiently, but without feeling. Well-honed suspicion and perverse curiosity drive the reader to the easily anticipated, but nonetheless shocking ending.

'Twisted City' is a hard book to like, but not a hard book to admire. Starr has taken the classic downward-spiral noir novel and made it both unambiguous and uniquely his own. And just when the reader begins to believe they may have reached the bottom, just when the characters and the behavior appear at their most twisted and disturbed, Starr finds yet another, even lower, level and renews the descent. While perversely fascinating, 'Twisted City' is a book to be read with ladder at hand. Make sure you can climb out of Starr's dark hole - you certainly don't want to stay there.