FRESH by Mark McNay (Bond Street), 288 pages, $29.95 cloth. Rating: NN Rating: NN
Don't let the working-class scottish vernacular or the sociopathic actions of the main character's drug-dealing fugitive brother fool you into thinking you've discovered the next Irvine Welsh or James Kelman.
Although Mark McNay's first novel does at times share the trademark flair for dialogue of his Scottish counterparts, it lacks the energy and character development that would allow it to transcend its pulp tendencies.
Set in the course of one day, Fresh revolves around Sean O'Grady's attempts to obtain the money he owes his erratic brother Archie, unexpectedly released from jail that day and come to collect his loot.
The narrative veers between present and past, using flashbacks to provide a vivid glimpse of the tragic childhood that is clearly the root of Archie's delinquent behaviour. Unfortunately, the scenes set in the present can't replicate the emotional depth of some of Sean's flashbacks.
While Archie's life is a patchwork of petty crimes and incarceration, Sean has chosen an honest line of work, albeit a monotonous one. He toils in a chicken processing plant in rural Scotland, indulging in Walter Mitty-type fantasies to escape his sense of futility and repress his own criminal urges.
The detailed, sometimes graphic depiction of Sean's life in the plant carries the novel through its early stages. However, the factory scenes become tedious and repetitive, staunching the narrative flow until Archie enters the story, well past its halfway point.
The reader's sense of foreboding is never quite justified. Sean remains indifferent and stoic even as the threat of retribution at the hands of his brother dominates the storyline, while Archie's character shrinks into a caricature that seems more suited to a drive-in movie.
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