scarecrow reviews


Matthew McIntosh - Well

Matthew McIntosh - Well.


"Maybe not always, but a lot of the time, it doesn't matter where I actually am, it's all the same..." And so starts this Sisyphean caterwaul - something scarecrow can relate to. Seven chapters of this tidy debut have the same title: "It's taking so damn long to get here." Each exemplifies the point of this book adroitly. First things first Well is a debut of prosodic virtuoso. The book is rattled by, spattered with and soaked to the bone by voices - it is a loud book (in the Gaddisian sense of the word). Well is set in a working-class American wasteland, Seattle to be precise and each of its character's are embroiled in, or escaping from disparate situations they can see no exit from. Some characters make fleeting appearances within the narrative, others more substantial, but all - in some way or another - are lost in a dark chasm of no escaping: A dark well, if you will allow me. Well is a classic debut, brimming with all the right ingredients - male angst, dissatisfaction - that help to drive such writers. But, it is Matthew McIntosh's prose style that screams the loudest. It is quite simply breathtaking in its density. Plot? A multi-narrative gone askew. The disparate of a working-class Seattle suburb eke out miserable existences while clinging on to the vain hope that something else, something better, or anything is just around the next corner. It isn't, of course. You get the picture. Debuts such as Well are seldom published - and if they are we rarely see them. Increasingly we see mainstream publishers taking fewer risks, ignoring such fresh work. Well is testimony to the realization that forward-thinking fiction can still find the support it so necessarily needs. Faber are publishing this gem over here - if only they would have the same trust in similar home-grown talent. Their last big-hitter also a state-side voice. But, as readers, we must continue to seek out these gems. Well is cutting, acerbic, dry and ravaged by every disappointment felt - this wearisome lament is a wretched, yet strangely heartwarming tale and McIntosh seems to have the ability to suck out all that is real and honest from the deepest of wounds. Well is pure dissatisfaction, a smudge, a long scratch through the white, pristine wall of contemporary fiction. Throw away Palahniuk's studied nihilism and think Manhattan Transfer with extra bite. In the wise argot of Shaun Ryder: double good.

Lee Rourke © 2005.


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