I don’t know what Marshall Smith was thinking, I truly don’t. Too casually dark for your average young adult and with themes of estrangement that will barely be relateable to younger readers, you would think this would be aimed towards adults. Yet with one of the narratives from a rather young eleven year-old, and a plot about getting the Devil his mojo back by getting Grandpa’s magic machine working again, it certainly skews young adult. Except the Devil is, you know, the Devil. Remember that review where I criticized the UF author for having Disney-fied demons and basically making the creatures from Hell cute? Marshall Smith’s Devil is definitely Not From The Same Place. Example:
“The Devil inclined his head, as if conceding the point. He bought a large vodka and left the counter, trailing his finger along the man’s shoulder as he walked off. The man was too drunk to notice. Later that afternoon, however, he finally realized how much his room-mate’s aged cat was getting on his nerves, and killed it, losing consciousness on the sofa with the animal’s neck still gripped in his hands. Around midnight the room-mate returned, worked out what had happened (not a tough piece of deduction, profoundly stoned though the room-mate was), and stabbed him in the heart with a dirty ten-inch chef’s knife. He died quickly, a faster resolution to his pain than the Devil would have preferred but it was not an exact science. You put stuff out there, and you got what you got. It’s a journey.”
This is an aside, mind you. It’s not germane to the story. There’s no value, except to show that the Devil really is casually Evil. But you see what I mean? Marshall Smith tries to through a little humor in their about a dumb stoner (ha, ha), why, exactly? And then applying a New Age mantra to creating Evil? Super-funny, ha-ha, because we just witnessed an animal killing and a homicide. Hee-hee.
In the spirit of Anti-Hero, Marshall Smith then tries to introduce a Worse Thing that may mean the Devil is preferable. What can be worse than this level of casual evil? Well, it took a bit to be introduced to them (as in, halfway through the book), but they seemed the typical Ultimate Evil sort.
I couldn’t help thinking of John Connolly as I read, he of the Samuel Johnson trilogy (published 2010), of an eleven year-old boy who ends up trying to shut the gates of Hell, and in book two, takes an inadvertent trip through it. Interestingly, his parents are also separated. Both books contain narratives from their eleven-year-old protagonists, but while Samuel Johnson seems perceptive and somewhat precocious, Hannah seems mostly lost and focused on trying to recover her previous reality.
Connolly manages the right balance of funny-with-scary, combined with a swift plot, that makes it a joy to read in comparison to this somber and grey-scale version. Actually, I’ve made up my mind; Connolly has the YA version that will appeal to all ages, and Marshall Smith has the version that will resonate with the fifty-year old that can only remember fun through the distance of decades.
Marshall Smith is a gorgeous writer, no doubts there, and any lesser writer probably would have resulted in a DNF. This is nicely crafted, but hampered by a slow-moving plot and fragmented perspectives.
“And so you bravely pick up the existential pencil and sketch a few opening sentences, the speculative first paragraph. You encourage the woman or man you love to write alongside you, relishing the co-authoring of this huge improvisational adventure, this big and beautiful game. You write and write and write and it all seems so very easy, and before you know it you’re already on Chapter Sixteen and that’s great because just look how much you’ve done, and how very good it is… or will be, definitely, when you’ve had a chance to give it an edit.
Until the lunch in Lost Gatos when you realize there will be no second draft, that your wife doesn’t love you any more, and you’ve been writing with indelible ink all along.”