Eli the Rat Paperback – May 23, 2016
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About the Author
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Eli, the title character, is an investigator who has been hired to go undercover as a forklift operator at a New Jersey pharmaceutical warehouse to find out who's been stealing thousands of dollars worth of narcotics. He is a rat, in the parlance of his industry. He also has a fondness for smoking hashish laced with PCP. His internal monologues while under the influence are reminiscent of William Burroughs: hilarious, bawdy and gloomily fatalistic about the human condition.
The warehouse is full of sad sack characters living lives of quiet desperation. One of them, Gene, who works on the "picking line," has a dead daughter and an alcoholic wife and spends his days filling orders by putting boxes of drugs into plastic bins that roll along a conveyor belt. It is monotonous work that doesn't pay well, but Gene goes at it with zest because he's got a lucrative source of side income from selling Oxycodone pills stolen from the "narco cage" -- the storage area where the narcotics are kept. He drives a new BMW and has plans to buy a house with six bedrooms and four bathrooms -- much too big for just his wife and himself, but Gene doesn't care; he craves symbols of material success the way the addicts to whom he sells pills on the boardwalk crave drugs.
Gene's partner in crime is Molly, a single young woman who lives at home with her disabled mother and religious fanatic father. Gene pays her one hundred dollars a week to take boxes of Oxycodone from the narco cage and smuggle them out of the warehouse in her lunch pail. That's only a tiny sliver of what he makes from his illicit side business, and if she's caught she'll go to prison, but Molly is too naive and desperate for money to weigh the consequences.
The plot thickens when Eli discovers who's behind the drug thefts. The next step would be to turn Gene and Molly in, collect his pay and move on, but he hesitates because he's fallen for Molly. The ending, which I won't revel, is pure poetry.
Eli the Rat is much more than a crime novel and certainly not a whodunnit because we know who the culprits are almost from the start; it's an unforgettable story about power and longing and bad choices that stands up to the best of Richard Ford and John Cheever.