Saturday, November 07, 2009

Review - Acts of Violence by Ryan David Jahn

I don't keep up with all the Macmillan New Writing releases but I was determined not to miss out on this month's publication by the American writer Ryan David Jahn. Acts of Violence recounts the events of a single night in early 1960s New York. Inspired by a true story, the spare narrative unfolds as young woman is murdered outside her apartment block; her death, drawn out over several hours, is watched by her neighbours, all of whom have their own reasons for not calling the emergency services. Jahn shows us the lives of doomed Kat Marino and her neighbours, while at the same time painting a portrait of a time and place. He shows us racism, child abuse, infidelity, homosexuality; but never telling the reader what to think. His background as a screenwriter is apparent in the economy of the prose, the details freighted with significance. Nothing is spelled out; everything is implied.

An American writer of bleak, visceral crime fiction will inevitably make the reader think of James Ellroy, and the similarities are certainly there. He has more in common, though, with RJ Ellory, in that while the story is superficially a crime novel, that's simply the vehicle it chooses for a wider examination of its themes. The author has already been signed up on a longer deal by Macmillan and its easy to see why. Ryan David Jahn is a real talent and it wouldn't surprise me if he was soon a household name.
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9 comments:

Alis said...

Hi Tim - Yes, I'm reading Ryan's book at the moment and I'd agree with everything you say - it seems very cinematic and would undoubtedly make a great film. So far the only real problem for me with the book is that I want to know more about all of the characters - they are presented to us as very vivid people and I'm disappointed not to be able to enter more fully into their lives but that's just the nature of the form that Ryan's chosen.

Tim Stretton said...

You might be surprised by the end of the book at how much resolution some of the individual stories have. It's quite an achievement to take this 'snapshot' approach and still be able to close off as much as Ryan manages.

There's a real skill about being able to pack so much into such a spare narrative - it looks so easy that it's underestimated. In a very different register Muriel Spark has the same gift.

Alis said...

Thanks Tim, I shall look forward to finishing the book this weekend.

Matt Curran said...

Hi Tim

David Budd picked up a signed copy for me at Goldsboro Books a week or so ago, and I'm very much looking forward to this one. We're always thinking we have a bestseller author on our hands; we thought that with Ann Weisgarber, but have been duped at the last moment. Perhaps the publishing world is cagey these days - not able to or not prepared to take a few risks - but if a little more publicity had gone into Rachel DuPree, we may have seen our first bestselling MNW novel already. I hope that happens with Ryan’s book, and maybe it will with the paperback if it’s given the chance...

Frances Garrood said...

Isn't it a bit early to write off Rachel Dupree, Matt? I certainly hope so! With 12 five-starred reviews on Amazon (I've just looked) and Christmas coming up, there's still time for it to take off. It's one of the best novels I've read this year, and is certainly on my to-give list this Christmas. I'm sure I'm not alone.

Matt Curran said...

Hi Frances

I totally agree, and I'm not writing off Ann, just that perhaps the Orange nomination didn't seem exploited enough for what was a brilliant book. I must admit I thought Rachel DuPree was going to be an instant hit, yet at least in the bookshops I looked at there was barely a copy on the shelves during the Orange prize (in our local Waterstones there were finding it difficult to source a copy of it). It just seemed a little too quiet.

Hopefully, like quite a few books these days, it will take it's time to gather a momentum and be that classic hit we all hoped it would be... And hopefully by then, Ryan's book will also have hit those same giddy heights!

Tim Stretton said...

Books do seem to have a very short window to achieve success these days. Rachel DuPree's best hope now is that someone buys the film rights (and for all it's quietness, in the right hands it would make a hell of a film) - which given the publicity it gained through the Orange, is not out of the question.

MNW have always seemed better at picking commercially successful crime novels than any other genre (Len and Brian have obviously sold well enough to garner longer deals); I think the chances of Ryan making the breakthrough must be pretty good.

RDJ said...

Hey, Tim. Thanks for this very generous review. I'm glad you liked it.

Tim Stretton said...

My pleasure. I'm delighted to see such accomplished fiction flying the MNW flag.