The word ‘waste’ has a lot of connotations. Personally, I think of the word waste as a synonym for trash: something not worth keeping around. I suspect many people feel the same way I do, which is probably what Andrew F. Sullivan was assuming when he titled his latest book Waste. Keep in mind the title isn’t referring to the book itself (it definitely isn’t garbage) but thecharacters within it. Sullivan has created some of the most unfortunate, disturbed characters I’ve ever read about, and I struggle to think of just one that could be labelled as ‘good’. Maybe the old woman who ended up getting stomped to death, she wasn’t so bad, but she certainly wasn’t a lovable person either. Sullivan alludes to people who were good at one point in their lives, but they usually suffered traumatic or physical events that changed their personality or outlook on life, thus rendering them as depressed as everyone else.
So what is the premise of the book you ask? Well, a skinhead and his co-worker end up hitting a lion with their car one night (yes, a lion, you read that right), and the henchman of the lion’s owner wreak havoc until they can find out who killed his prized pet. But this lion doesn’t instigate all the problems in the story, the skinhead creates many problems on his own (as they do), and his unfortunate friends don’t make matters any better with their own effed up lives to deal with. There are suicides, murders, torture, and as I mentioned before, ladies that are stomped to death. So, not for the faint of heart, but because I was warned it was a difficult read from the beginning, I think I was less sensitive to these terrible things than usual.
Most critics loved this book, and it has a mile-long list of positive reviews and blurbs. I think what draws people in is the focus on the landscape and setting, it’s basically the larger, looming character that conjures up all the evil found in these pages. Larkhill, Ontario is the town where all this takes place, and it’s not a real town, which is a good thing, because if it did exist, I would pity every single inhabitant of that place. Anywho, Larkhill is a desolate town of crumbling strip malls and shoddy motels with permanent residents. Apparently you can kill people quite easily here, and law enforcement won’t find out about it for days. As I read this, I imagined what it would be like to live in one of these hovels as a small child with dreams and aspirations. Very early on in life you would realize how the odds are stacked against you here. I didn’t get the sense that it was possible to escape, and the last few lines of the story seem to support the notion that you’re doomed from the beginning in Larkhill. When you think of it that way, it’s harder to blame the characters for their despicable actions, because most would act with the same disregard for life when raised in those same situations.
Surprisingly, I was looking forward to meeting Sullivan at his Wordfest appearances despite his terrifying writing. As I guessed, he was a very normal, well-adjusted person. That being said, a violent storyteller is something us Canadians don’t have a lot of, so he’s filled a niche for us, like it or not.