than I could take
Roberge novel tries hard but misses target by feet
More Than They Could
Chew, by Rob Roberge, Harper Collins, 2005, 306 pages
Someone remind me to
ask Hippo books editor Lisa Parsons why she keeps giving me books to
review that feature 30-something men who are failing at anything
approaching normal life. I mean, c’mon — I’m 33 and have been known to
subsist on beer and Kraft dinner for weeks at a time but I have my act
together. Right? Right?!
Surely I’m nothing like
Nick Ray, the main character in More Than They Can Chew. Nick, 34, is a
loser. He’s a “sucker bet,” says his ex-wife. He drinks and takes speed.
He’s a desk clerk at the Lincoln Hotel, the flop house he also lives in.
Occasionally Nick makes a few extra bucks cleaning past-its-prime fish
bait out of live-bait vending machines. Oh, and he’s in love with a
lesbian who has a live-in girlfriend but hangs out with Nick because he
helps her fulfill her often bizarre sex fantasies.
But screwed up as he
is, Nick is no dummy. So when he buys a used computer (in order to
e-mail his lover), and finds on its hard drive a list of the identities
— both real and assumed — of folks in the federal Witness Protection
Program, he senses an opportunity. He goes back to the computer store,
buys nine more used computers, and tells his friends, a junky ex-lawyer
named Maggot Arm Joe and a half-Russian leg breaker named Sergei, that
he can cut them in on a deal. (Maggot Arm Joe is so named because his
heroin habit resulted in an armful of gangrene and doctors decided to
treat the problem with maggots.)
The guys soon hit on
the idea of selling the computers to the highest bidder, either the
witnesses themselves or those whom the witnesses testified against.
Hijinks ensue. Innocent fingers are broken. A bomb shelter is purchased.
The top bidder dies and the FBI comes sniffing around. Nick is beaten up
by mistake. The lesbian likes Nick, but only as a friend.
Roberge seems to be
aiming to be the next Elmore Leonard, filling twisty plots with quirky
characters from unlikely backgrounds. The difference is, Leonard’s plots
are fun and interesting and his character’s quirks make them likable or
at least engaging. Roberge’s ideas are good but they all fall flat. Too
many words are wasted on colorful secondary characters, leaving far too
few to show the motivation of the leads.
At several points in
the book I wanted to find Roberge and shake him.
“What was the point of
the fetal pigs, Mr. Roberge?” I’d ask. “Why waste precious paragraphs on
them when you can’t be bothered to use some to make me care about your
characters? What’s up with the gratuitous enema fantasy in the middle?”
More Than They Could
Chew, while describing Nick and Friends’ predicament, is also a good
indicator of the one this author placed his readers in. Although,
Roberge might have been in that situation himself.