NEVER FÜCK UP
By Jens Lapidus
Pantheon Books/Random House, 2013 ($26.95)
Reviewed by Sam Waas
Language is constantly evolving, sometimes for good, often not. This is the price we pay for living in an information-rich environment. One recent trend in literature is the use of parenthetic expressions or prepositional phrases as standalone sentences. Modern fiction is replete with this, the best practitioner of which, I think, being Cormac McCarthy, about whom I've often talked.
Of course, with ol' Carmac, you won't find moody and angst-ridden statements like "Trees laden with autumnal gloom in fading twilight." Instead you're more likely to see "Red dripping flayed bodies. Flies buzzing on carnage." You think you've read a scary book? You've not. Try McCarthy's Blood Meridian, probably the most frightening novel of the current era. It will set your hair afire.
But I digress...I occasionally use the blocky new-age technique of fragmented sentences in my own writing, as do many authors. As a result, we've likely set both Strunk and White awhirl in their respective and sadly outdated graves, not to mention my MS-Word nanny (thank heaven the animated paperclip is no longer with us).
But these formerly unacceptable breaches of Standard English represent divergence of the language, and grammatically incomplete sentences can be expressive and help concentrate the emotional impact of phrases into a more focused narrative. Overuse, of course, can also make the text. Hard to. Comprehend or. Even read without. Stumbling.
Everyone's a writer these days, to be sure. Star athletes and those famous for just being famous suddenly wake up to find their life story, How I Became A Rich Idiot, neatly bound and eagerly in the publisher's hands, ghost written of course, a puffy $2 million advance already in the bank. When the day before, the celebrity thought that "declining a noun" was a French phrase for taking a nap at noon.
Anyway. The trend for short sentences and choppy style has permeated other languages, particularly the now-trendy Scandinavian noir world of mystery and police procedural thrillers. Such a story is NEVER FÜCK UP (henceforth referred to as NFU), a well-paced and intriguingly plotted modern mystery set in Stockholm.
The novel features three disparate men: Thomas, a mid-level and slightly corrupt police inspector who inadvertently becomes involved in a politically sensitive murder, Mahmud, a quasi-Muslim lowlife thug wannabe, and Nicklas, recently returned from violent employ as a civilian defense contractor in Afghanistan. All three are inexorably drawn together as the story proceeds, which is, on face, a common plot device. But author Jens Lapidus skillfully maintains the individual strengths and failings of each character throughout, and in the process, presents a highly entertaining novel.
As you know from my other reviews, I'm reluctant to provide much of the plot beyond what you might read on the dust jacket. A good story is too much fun to discover all by yourself, rather than have someone toss spoilers at you just to prove they've read the whole book. I'm more inclined to discuss the creative process overall, or perhaps the cultural climate of the novel, than talk about plot elements. If you want to know whodunnit, you'll just have to read the book. Which, in this case, is what I recommend. NFU is a damn good modern story that provides us a running commentary on the present social environment in Sweden, its advantages and excesses.
My only objection to NFU is that Lapidus seems to have succumbed to pressures to create a sharper, harsher, and more invective construction, or has done so per his own ill-advised sense of what's really needed. As a consequence, the parenthetical sentence technique is overused, unduly interrupting word flow. And foul language seems shoveled into the conversations and narrative, bringing forth a desire to try the "f-word" counting game usually played while watching Brian De Palma's Scarface.
Trendy writing techniques are perfectly acceptable, so long as they aren't overdone. Rude language is also evident in any naturalistic story these days. It's just that both appear here to excess, creating a sort of faux noir texture, which gets in the way of this excellent mystery story.
I'm nevertheless giving NFU a happy recommendation, with the inherent caution that you don't become too disrupted by. The jumpy. Narrative.
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