Book review: Get Poor Slow by David Free

Saturday, July 1, 2017 Permalink

The first part of this book took my breath away. I found myself marking paragraphs and sentences that leapt out at me, folding over page after page. That did slow down and whether I became inured to David Free’s prose or his writing reduced to a (still amazing, but) low simmer, I’m not sure but I was initially mesmerised.

Book review: Get Poor Slow by David FreeGet Poor Slow
by David Free
Published by Picador Australia
on June 27th 2017
Source: PanMacmillan
Genres: Literary Fiction, Thriller / Suspense
ISBN: 1760552135, 9781760552138
Pages: 230

Ray Saint is in trouble. A young woman is dead and he was the last person to see her alive. No one is impressed by his excuses: Ray, you see, is the most hated book reviewer in Australia - a hatchet man with a belly full of bourbon and curdled dreams of literary greatness. Now he will need all of his acid-tongued wit and even some moments of lucidity if he is to discover who murdered the beautiful publishing assistant who got so far beneath his skin.

As a battered and bloodied Ray investigates more deeply, he is obliged to face the truth: he can't be entirely sure that he isn't the killer.

Interestingly this book is written by a literary critic. And it’s about a literary critic. Of course I’m no critic. And not even vaguely literary. But I blog about books and review books so could relate to a lot of this book’s narrative.

It’s hard to describe Ray, the key suspect and our book’s narrator. We’re in his head and the book’s written in first person so we’ve got little choice but to trust him. I’ve read a spate of books by unreliable and secretive narrators lately, but that’s not Ray. Indeed, Ray’s incredibly honest with us and himself. Although not with the police. Ray’s problem is well… Ray.

I have this strange inertia these days. My tastebuds are all shorn off, and the world feels bleached-out, as if every day is the day after someone has died. p 2

He blames his heavy drinking and pill taking on severe headaches which are the result of an accident when he was young. Indeed he feels (and seems) defined by the scars (physically, mentally and emotionally) he suffered. As a result – of the headaches and / or pills and booze – he has blackouts and cannot remember significant chunks of time. Which, of course, makes it difficult for him to really know what happened during the time of the murder or, indeed, remember his own movements.

Tumbleweeds of razor wire clashed in my skull…

I do not get headaches because I drink. I drink because I get headaches. If you don’t get the distinction, leave now. On mornings like this one, the crack in my skull feels blazingly reborn. It feels as if it got put there overnight. I feel thick hot blood raging inside it, like lava. The pain detaches me from the here and now. I rarely feel present in my own life. If it’s not the pain, it’s the stuff I take to get rid of it. pp 4-5

I liked Ray, and his self-deprecating ways made up for his smug (literary) arrogance. You get a sense he’s using the few weapons he has in his (metaphorical) arsenal against his detractors and those he believes belittle him.

Free cleverly unpicks Ray’s story and movements slowly and we learn he’s keeping secrets. Not from us, but from the police. He’s playing the long game, waiting to reveal the cards he thinks will exonerate him. At least, that’s what he hopes.

It becomes obviously pretty quickly that Ray has been played. And played again. Sadly he doesn’t seem to go with his gut in this instance and continues to believe in someone who never really existed.

Her secrets are my secrets now. If I don’t keep them, who will? p 15

I probably wasn’t as enamoured by the plot itself as I was by Free’s writing – particularly in the beginning. I’m a fan of the old gumshoe / PI authors (like Robert B Parker¬†and similar) so there’s something slightly spoofy and ironic about this book, which I think is reflected by the cover – giving it that retro vibe.

I squinted at the clock and hated what it said. p 3

I was a bit surprised it took Ray soooo long to realise what was happening as the hint we’re given in the beginning (as to what might be afoot) is a pretty big one… so when the plot goes in that direction I thought it was a tad obvious. The ending / climax was probably a little outrageous so I wasn’t fully convinced, though did appreciate Free avoided giving everyone their happily-ever-after or complete sense of closure. There was however, a sense of introspection.

Piano trills rippled frailly in the wind. They sounded better than I’d remembered, either because I was drunk or because I was about to die. You should have listened to thinks like this more often, I thought. You should have had that sort of life….

Squandering your life is not a small deal. But it doesn’t happen all at once. The bad news creeps up on you. pp 212-213

I must now seek out David Free’s reviews as I’m intrigued if they’re as nasty (and eloquent) as Ray’s. This read is also a bit confronting for those of us who write about books and authors. I always try to be honest in my reviews, though not vicious. There are probably occasions I skim over negative elements more than I could or should, just as there are times I nit-pick for no reason other than that something annoyed me. This book’s not getting a lot of press, which is interesting, as I think it has a bit to say about the publishing industry and popular culture. I’d suggest Free is a ‘great new voice in Australian literature’ but that would sound a bit wanky – like the fictional ‘industry lapdog’ Barrett Lodge.

Get Poor Slow by David Free was published in Australia by PanMacmillan and is now available.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review purposes.

*** NB. I read an early version of this novel, so there may have been changes to page numbering / quotes ***


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