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RIDE WITH MADNESS

Solid literary fiction

By Chris Poirier, editor

Nov 15, 2008: Ride With Madness—to date, at six chapters—is some very solidly-written literary fiction. The word that keeps coming to mind while I write this is "immaculate". With the exception of the opening few scenes, every word seems right—there’s nothing out of place.

The story begins when Helen, the taken-for-granted wife of a self-involved corporate climber, finds Carla, a young woman with a shady past, going into labour at a bus stop. Helen really doesn’t want to get involved, if the truth be told—she’s not that keen on spending time with the underclasses, and she needs to get home in time to make Malcolm dinner, or there’ll be a fight—but, at Carla’s plea, she puts her doubts aside and drives Carla to the hospital in her BMW. Unbeknownst to either of them, they are being watched and photographed as they drive off, by someone who cares a little too much about one of them.

Ride With Madness is the study of four (and maybe five) characters: Helen and her husband Malcolm, and Carla and her husband Addison (and possibly the stalker from the opening scene—but I won’t talk about him any more). Each character is very different from the others—in terms of background, wants, and personality—but each character is deeply flawed. Helen is timid, and afraid of everything. She hates her life, but is terrified of unsettling it. Malcolm is shallow, self-involved, and controlling. He’s a boy playing a man—and a small man, at that. Addison is a preacher who sees the world in terms of Good and Evil—for him, there is no middle ground, no room for humanity, not even within himself. And yet, he’s desperate for the adoration of his congregation. He does everything for them—to the point of neglecting his new wife and young baby—but, deep down, he does it all only because he needs what he gets in return. He married Carla to "save" her—from her past, from her situation—but, even there, he gets far more from the arrangement than he gives. In his better moments, he even realizes it. Finally, Carla is probably the most stable of the set, yet she is running from some form of violence or abuse in her past. Her child is not Addison’s—she was already three months pregnant when he met her. Addison believes her former life was one of forced prostitution, but at this point, we can’t be sure.

In the end, Ride With Madness stands or falls on its characterization—the plot is slow-moving, and, to be honest, very little actually happens. Fortunately, the characterization is solid—there is lots of vivid, subtle detail in evidence. However, there is an odd distance to the narrative—it talks about the characters, but it keeps them forever at arms’ length. The details it describes are intimate and personal, but it does it without intimacy, without feeling. And without a strong plot, this "distance" only serves to further dull any sense of urgency. The result is a read that isn’t very compelling.

As a side note, have a look at my second previous paragraph. See how I’ve described the men in more detail than the women? It’s not an accident. As much as the story appears to be mostly about Helen and Carla, the men are . . . less ambiguously painted. There’s little redeeming about any of them, and that’s a problem. Against such foils, the female characters seem weak, unable or unwilling to stand apart from these men—men who barely deserve the label. It would be one thing if the women stayed with them out of love, but there is very little love in evidence, here. In fact, if there is love conveyed in the writing (excluding Carla’s love for her newborn daughter, of course), it is that growing in Helen for Carla. It seems an odd bias in the narrative, as it doesn’t seem to serve the story’s aims—or, at least, what I can see of them so far.

Overall, I feel ambivalent about Ride With Madness. It is, as I said, exceptionally well-written—sentence-by-sentence, I really can’t fault it. But, despite that—and despite the strong character focus of the narrative (that I would usually like)—I’m just not sure I care about what happens to anybody in the story. And for a story that stands or falls on its characterization, that can’t be a good thing.

That all said, if you like quality literary fiction—if you like to immerse yourself in a few characters and really get to know them—give it a try and let me know what you think. I’m curious to find out if I’m just a troglodyte.

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