By Jason Starr
No Exit Press, 2016
Why do needless accidents happen to thoughtless people?
When Adam Bloom shoots off his gun he kills one burglar but the other escapes. Adam then goes on to act like a big hero before the assembled media: he is the man of the house, protecting his family from harm. This winds up Johnny Long, the burglar who got away, a guy who happens to be a sleazy, creepy, nasty piece of work. Johnny comes after Adam big-time, his wife and daughter an’ all. Everybody has to pay in blood.
Starr’s novel is wholly contemporary – we are in twenty first century New York, no question – but it also harks back to post-war noir and Jacobin revenge dramas of yore. Sin is indelible, so too self-delusion and self-justification. These people – Adam and Johnny, Dana the wife and Marissa the daughter – cannot become better. They are shiny and shallow automata, each with the odd blindspot. In this respect, it is interesting how Starr will sometimes run through the same scene twice, from different characters’ perspectives.
You feel as though these people (by which I probably mean ‘we’) are dislocated, not present, in their own lives. They are elsewhere, always missing something. On the phone or off with the faeries. And violence, even death, when it comes is always a shock to the victim, wholly unexpected, a matter of disbelief right up until the end: Starr gets this down straight, you feel. Wittgenstein wrote that death is not an event in the world, since we do not live to experience death. True enough, but dying is another matter.
I read Starr’s fine novel while sitting in the Stiegen Wirt restaurant in Kirchberg, in between attending the plenary lectures and afternoon sessions of the 39th International Wittgenstein Symposium. They serve wholesome Austrian food and, a big plus, Wolfbrau beer there.
The publisher’s description of Panic Attack can be read here.