ROUGH DRAFT. A Novel by James Hall. St. Martin's Press. 335 ppg.
At last week's book signing by James Hall, many a reader was heard to comment on the feminine psyche of his recent work. So-called "crime writers" rarely evoke such analysis. Hall's work achieves its ends in surprisingly indirect ways fraught with the doubts, loose ends and inadvertent heroism that circumstances summon.
Even to its title, Rough Draft gives the impression of something unfinished or tentative when nothing could be further from the truth. Its technique mirrors its plot relentlessly resolving itself amidst the full spectrum of fragile love and unspeakable horror.
His plots occur in a series of seemingly unrelated epiphanies until a fulsome momentum of interconnectedness propels the action toward a conclusion of multiple consequences. And, lest that sound too abstract, one might simply echo Bette's famous admonition: "Buckle up. You're in for a bumpy ride!"
Rough Draft poises diverse sets of duties against each other: a murderer for hire to his bosses, a mother to her son, the FBI to itself. Everyone's playing for keeps.
True to form, Hall has devised yet another literally gut-wrenching villain, as disturbing a character as I've ever read. And enmeshed within his evil purpose, a single writer/cop mom aches to liberate her son's fragile spirit itself traumatized by a horrific childhood event. This book wears its nervous system on the surface, relentlessly intense, fraught with perversion, fear, affection, yearning, greed, ego and justice.
Fans of Hall's breezier early work will find little beer swilling and sunset cocktailing here. As if to emphasize that fact, the author goes out of his way to dismiss Jimmy Buffett's postcard pop tunes as irrelevant to the darkness at hand.
Not for the squeamish, Rough Draft is born in violence and never strays far from it. An "adult dose," it's masterfully written, thoroughly engaging, alternately repulsive and maternally tender, it lingers in a very unsettling air where hope and love have to survive by guile and sheer will.