Sunday, July 31, 2011

Book Review: Fun & Games

Despite what we see in the movies, not every gunshot is explosive. If you’ve ever heard the sound of a 22 caliber handgun being fired, you know it sounds like little more than a crack or a pop. Duane Swierczynski’s Fun & Games is all action, but it pops a lot more than it explodes.

Charlie Hardie is an ex-cop of sorts. Nowadays, he is a professional housesitter for the rich and famous, his perennial gigs secured by Charlie’s penchant for professionalism and some good word-of-mouth advertising within celebrity circles. Charlie is content. He lives his life in the nicest of homes, and better yet, he is largely left alone. Things go a bit haywire on his latest job, however, when a scantily clad young woman barrels out of an in-house recording studio and attacks Charlie, accusing him of being one of “them.” Charlie is as baffled by the woman’s cryptic references to “them” as he is by her presence in the supposedly empty house. And yet, before long, the reality of “them” is made apparent to Charlie, who unwittingly finds himself a protector of more than a house—he is trying to save the life of the frantic woman who nearly skewered him with a microphone stand as well as himself.

It takes a very small sampling of Fun & Games to get a feel for Swiercyznki’s writing. The chapters begin with epitaphs quoting films such as Lethal Weapon and Commando. Suitcases are said to be “belched” and “vomited up” by airport baggage carousels, windy roads are compared to intestinal tracts, and some women are said to have “cheekbones that could cut tin cans.” There is a swagger to Swiercyznski’s words, even as they take on a very casual and laid-back, stream-of-consciousness feel. It is appropriate that the story is set in Hollywood and talks so much about the movies—you’ll feel like you’re reading a screenplay, a bit of razzle dazzle sprinkled over the otherwise simple and to-the-point verbiage.

One issue some readers may have with the book is pacing. The staccato narrative drives the story forward in rapid, sputtering bursts, bouncing back and forth between different characters’ perspectives in a borderline disorienting way. Rather than adding depth to the tale, this weighs down the story’s momentum. The first act tends to dilly-dally, with various characters marveling at how drawn out their respective chores have become—a feeling with which the reader qua reader may all too easily identify. Even so, the slow start eventually gives way to some genuinely engaging action sequences. Fun & Games may not go from 0-60 in under 10 seconds, but it does get there.

On the whole, there is nothing spectacular to be found in Fun & Games. It is so developmentally succinct that one finds it hard to become truly engrossed, the unrelenting action notwithstanding. But, as the title suggests, there is something in the way of sheer entertainment to be found here. One gets the feeling most adept writers could have produced something of this quality without breaking their imaginative backbones, and yet the book goes down fast and easy, like a cold drink of water. Take it on your next airplane trip, and it’ll help you pass the time. You may not think about it much afterward, but it won’t have bored you.

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