Slippin' Into Darkness
US Mass Market Paperback
303 pages; $4.99
Date Reviewed: 04-03-1996
Reviewed by Rick Kleffel © 2002
In "Slippin' Into Darkness" Norman Partridge takes a hard-as-nails tack at the age-old theme of vengeance from the grave. From its introductory scene of a man playing "graveyard baseball", that is, swilling beers and pitching the empties at the gravestone of the woman everybody loved and hated, "Slippin' Into Darkness" is a down-home brew of bad folks leading bad lives that get worse. It plays out as a cleverly constructed mystery of character, set in the wilds of the down-trodden sub-suburbs surrounding Oakland. Like Ruth Rendell's Barabara Vine novels, "Slippin' into Darkness" is a journey towards understanding both the criminal and the crime.
But Partidge's characters are considerably cruder than Rendell's. He's gathered all the people you used to know in high school, the jocks, the cheerleaders, the jerks, and sentenced them to ten years of hard labor in menial jobs and dead-end lives. Now one of the old gang has died, and as the reader finds out who died, and why, and how they're related to everybody else in the story, the seamy characters unfold in a mordant meditation on the old vengeance-from-beyond-the-grave tale. But this is surely not Stephen King (though his blurb is prominently placed on the cover), so don't expect the usual zombies or telekinetic teens.
Instead, you'll get sympathetic suburban pornographers and ex-jocks gone to seed whose thought processes have slowly come to a grinding halt. In the midst of a kidnapping gone wrong, standing over an open grave in a rainy graveyard, the thoughts of the one-time track star who now runs the check-out counter at a furniture store take a humorously understated turn:
"Todd Gould yawned.
"It was a nice night, that was for sure. A little colder than last night, but nice.
"It was quiet.
"Nice and quiet.
"Sometimes it was real quiet at the furniture store.
"That was nice.
"But this place wasn't like the furniture store.
"There wasn't any furniture here at all."
But Partridge doesn't just lampoon his characters. He likes them, and lets them speak for themselves, as much as they are able. The revelations take place in the thoughts of characters rather than in the midst of a shoot-out or a car chase. For those who like their fiction rough and ready but character-based, Norman Partridge's "Slippin' Into Darkness" may be the closest thing to Flannery O'Conner you're likely to get this side of the millienium.