Amazingly easy to write, but actually quite tricky to pull off to the satisfaction of the reader if you think about it. Being able to condense plot and character development into less than 100 pages: do you think you could do it?
Luckily, Philip LoPresti (not long from delivering the excellent The Things We Bury) has stepped up to the plate and delivered one that is blackly comic, dreadfully sad and filled with existentialist musings.
In under 70 pages, we follow Caleb, whose life falls apart after he returns home to find his girlfriend dead from self-inflicted wounds. Between having conversations with the dead woman and musing on his past as a hitman, things are not destined to end well.
Like The Things We Bury, LoPresti gives us a protagonist who has a particular skill which he has had to use to help pay the bills, but is the furthest thing from a cool, calculated type. Knowing that he’s carrying out this task in the pursuit of a better life not only adds a tragic element to the tale, but also indicates to the reader how fragile this arrangement is. And when it collapses, especially when it becomes increasingly violent, it is akin to viewing a car crash: you know it’s coming, and you can’t tear your eyes away from it.
Coupled with the various illustrations that are interspersed throughout (by Kayleigh Brown), which add a dark surrealism to the tale, and what we have is a novella that is utterly gripping from the first page and sends the reader on an emotional journey.
Read in an hour, think of nothing else for the rest of the day.
Philip LoPresti, 2021, Tried in Ruin. Bad Dog Press, ISBN-13: 979-9714210129
⏩Christopher Owens was a reviewer for Metal Ireland and finds time to study the history and inherent contradictions of Ireland. He is currently the TPQ Friday columnist.