You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames

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You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames

Category: Crime
Rating: 3.5/5
Reviewer: John Lloyd
Reviewed by John Lloyd
Summary: Pitch black novellas don't often come this gritty, but for me the lack of resolution was like waiting for the other shoe to drop.
Buy? Maybe Borrow? Yes
Pages: 96 Date: July 2016
Publisher: Pushkin Vertigo
ISBN: 9781782272458

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He came up with a plan, a solution, a way to live, which was to get very small and very quiet and leave no wake. So he had to be pure. He had to be holy. He had to be contained. He is Joe, an ex-Marine, ex-FBI, who has had demons drummed into him by not only his work but his abusive father, with the help of a hammer. Having left one of his own hammers behind in a hotel room, only to need it in an introductory scuffle which really places the reader in a dark and grim place, he moves on to the next job on his list – rescuing the daughter of a Senator. But are that holy lack of wake and his consummate survival skills actually going to be enough?

This is the second Pushkin Vertigo I've sampled, and it is a sample at best of the author's output, being less than ninety minutes to read aloud. That's the consumer journalist in me, however, not the literary critic – I cannot pretend to have met with Jonathan Ames, as such, but I certainly got to know Joe. He's a completely dark man – living with his aged mother, haunted by demons and daily thinking of his own suicide and certain mess-free plans of his – and he knows his way around a body's weaker points. His job is one of the more galling ones you can have, and this is definitely an adult read, with several scenes my consumer journalist half would flag up as causing problems for many potential buyers.

For me, I was right on board; the reader is thrown pell-mell into a dark alley with unknown assailants, and it goes on from there – little reprieve, little dialogue, one of those longest night novels where you can't pretend to be sure of seeing the sunrise. But there was still a scene that gave me a hiccup, that of the end. It felt a little as if the author was declaiming his nous at being the provider of a terse, no-holds-barred thriller, and making sure he delivered until he hit the word count, without being able to go either forward with the story or back to revise. Before then I had not been completely fond of the narrative style – the narration is too bullish in defining Joe, saying 'he did this' and 'he had done that as he needed the other' in such a dry reportage style you feel Joe is a little too robotic, metronomic, and too much in a doubt-free world. The narrator knows the character of someone Joe encounters on his nocturnal travails, which I'm sure Joe was experienced enough to discern, but when he also knows his name and previous career – I felt too removed from reality.

But that terse, no-holds-barred intention runs throughout these pages, however, like poisoned letters in some toxic rock. As far as it gets in providing a full story, it does provide a full character, a full milieu and a full dose of black grittiness. The world of the book is a sober and sobering one, and if you disagree with me and feel a better engagement with it, this will be to you the most deceptive lightweight boxer – punching with the heft of someone of much larger caliber.

I must thank the publishers for my review copy.

My previous Pushkin Vertigo was the excellent Bird in a Cage by Frederic Dard and David Bellos (translator) – completely absorbing, and only a smidge longer than this from Ames.

Buy You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy You Were Never Really Here by Jonathan Ames at Amazon.com.


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