There’s nothing especially flashy about this book. The story meanders a little, but so gripping otherwise you forgive its weaknesses. The best shorthand I can think of is “Kerouac in Jail.” Imagine if his characters were a little less romantic and a little less lucky in the eyes of Johnny Law. This is a hardscrabble tale of down-and-outers, intelligent men without education struggling to articulate themselves through violence, crime, and every form of hustle available. By focusing on its characters, the book is able to tie in race, homosexuality, poverty, masculinity, adulthood, fatherhood, and institutional reform. All without veering into mawkishness or self-parody. A tough trick to pull off, even more impressive when you realize it’s the author’s debut.
I tend to read with a critical eye, which can be distancing. Carpenter’s prose kept me close and made me truly forget the world. Bravo.