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Niketown: A Novel Paperback – March 24, 2014
"Neverworld Wake" by Marisha Pessl
Read the absorbing new psychological suspense thriller from acclaimed New York Times bestselling author Marisha Pessl. Learn more
About the Author
A film critic playing by his own rules since 1999, Vern first gained notoriety covering the direct-to-video action movie beat for Ain't It Cool News. The director Guillermo Del Toro once called Vern "a national treasure," and that was before he even wrote the book "Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!": Writings On Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics, let alone Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal (which "plunges into the Seagal mythology much like the way Joseph Campbell dives into the work of James Joyce," according to Variety.) Niketown is his first novel. He lives in Seattle.
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I'm a sucker for stories featuring protagonists who live by a code and face their biggest challenges in their effort to grow and in Carter Chase I found a hero (?) who, following his release from prison, must walk his own line in a world he barely recognises anymore.
The story of a man trying to find his purpose, do one good thing and solve a mystery echoes closely the gumshoe tales and melancholy vibe of Hammett and Chandler proving that quality Noir isn't tied to the past but can, with a deft touch, be successfully applied to a modern (or future-modern) setting.
Wry and witty, the author uses Chase's bemusement at life outside his prison to poke holes in the absurdities rife in the commercialised and corporatized world but this is no bitter treatise, Niketown has heart and soul as it builds to an inevitable and moving finale.
Beyond the strengths of the narrative, it's also peppered with some interesting social commentary, mostly a critique of consumer culture and how it warps people, cheapens ideas and paints a picture of the individual consumer that may make an easy target out of him or her.
The whole subplot involving massive billboards and how street artists reclaim them really gives this novel a strong visual edge in the later half of the book.
Good stuff. I'd wholeheartedly recommend it.
If you’re familiar with his site, you’d figure he would write something about an ex-mercenary tracking down someone who killed his wife/girlfriend/partner, and all the ensuing bloodshed as this character exacted his revenge. In a way I was hoping for that, because we all know that’s where his talents lie, in his ability to recognize and pinpoint hardcore action as well as the characters that are forced to do it. But Niketown is really nothing like that.
It’s strange. The protagonist is a badass, and he does kick an ass or two, but the novel is much more transcendent–it’s operating on a level that goes deeper than the standard plot and sequence of an action film. Niketown is brimming with whimsical ideas and social commentary, but Vern is doing all this from the shadows. He’s doing it slyly, like someone pulling off a card trick where you never see the sleight of hand. The setting is eerily sometime in the near future, maybe a year from now, maybe two, maybe even five, though Vern never comes out and states this. It’s the small things, the subtle touches he paints it with. He’s picked up on certain things and taken them to the next evolutionary level. Sadly, I think he’s predicted or foreseen what’s to come for the real world. I can easily imagine a church named after a cell phone company, which is one of Vern’s cleverly featured details. Why not? Stadiums are. So are skyscrapers. How about a Pepsi advertisement on a grave site? It doesn’t sound too futuristic to me. It sounds like it’s right around the corner.
It’s not the story so much as Vern’s outlook on society that intrigued me in Niketown. Though the story is fresh and interesting, it’s the wonderfully bizarre details that make this a must-read. He also writes some fantastic dialogue. Everyone always compares great dialogue to Elmore Leonard, and he was great at it, but if I had to compare the dialogue in Niketown to something I think it would be Gregory McDonald’s Fletch. Fletch is also one of those books where you read it and you can literally see the fireworks igniting from the pages. With Fletch, you were left with a “wow” feeling, and that’s the same feeling I get from Niketown.
It’s also funny as hell. If you’ve ever laughed at anything on his site, this book is a special treat. I found myself highlighting paragraphs every other page or so. There is an original voice at work here, and I rarely come across one these days when reading a new author.
Not sure if Vern intends to write any other fiction or not; it doesn’t look like he gave the book much publicity. But I’m hoping he follows it up with something. He’s too good to simply write about the movies, though you can hardly call his movie reviews “simple.”
Niketown is earnest, clever, funny, and original -- and it has something to say about where our facebook ad culture might be taking us.