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Joseph G. Peterson, Beautiful Piece

Joe Peterson's Beautiful Piece is a simple story made into a complicated one by repetition, which often made it difficult to read. But ultimately the repetition really made me think, and really strengthened the book. The basic story is of a young man named Robert who is wandering aimlessly through life, and drifts into an ill-fated relationship with a young woman named Lucy, who takes Robert back to her place one day despite having a long-time fiancee who may or may not be a psycopath. Robert also has three friends, the placid family man Epstein (whom he admires as an ideal), a grizzled, bitter Vietnam veteran (known only as "the Vet") who is much closer to Robert's reality, and a fatherly bartender named Addison. And that's basically the entire plot.

Robert ceaselessly repeats phrases, conversations and incidents from his middling life, which I often found exasperating when I wasn't in the right frame of mind. But after a while I realized that the repetition makes perfect sense: repetition fills up the enormous empty spaces of his life, and also perpetuates his state of entropy by obsessing over the past instead of moving forward. But it's not just Robert who is prone to repetition - Lucy, Epstein and the Vet all share that weakness, and it's telling that Robert surrounds himself with similarly directionless people, none of whom prod him very much to get on with his life. Addison also reguarly praises him for how well his life is progressing, while it's obvious to the reader that Robert isn't progressing at all. In short, Robert surrounds himself with enablers who keep him stuck in a rut. He's so prone to stasis that when he finally makes a decisive act at the very end, it's one that is poorly thought out and undoubtedly catastrophic.

Many commenters I've seen online have objected to the book being characterized as noir, with all of the preconceptions that come with the genre. But despite the constant presence of a gun - a Glock - I don't think this is noir at all. Instead, it's a psychological character study of an obsessive individual. I think the story goes down a lot easier if it's read within that context, instead of as noir. Overall, Beautiful Piece was a thoughtful and rewarding read.

January 13, 2014 in Books | Permalink