Monday, October 14, 2013

The Walkaway

It’s hard to know what to expect in a book by Scott Phillips. There will be dark humor, and there will probably be a crime, though not necessarily, and whatever crime is committed may not be strictly illegal; more of a crime against conscience. For all the unpredictability, his books never disappoint. The more you read, the more different aspects of Phillips’s insight and talent become apparent. This is never more true than in The Walkaway.

The Walkaway begins a few years after Phillips’s debut novel, The Ice Harvest, leaves off. Gunther Fahnstiel has done what he did with the money (read the book to find out exactly what), and escaped from the facility where he’s being treated for his senility. Gunther sets out with a mission, but his declining mental state keeps him from gaining a firm grasp on what it is, or how he intends to accomplish it; he just knows he has one. His escape sets his friends and relatives in a frantic chase to find him, as well as to discover how he’s been paying for some things all these years.

Set against this story are the events of over fifty years previous, when Gunther, then a cop, stood guard over a remote cabin where the winners of the sex lottery at Collins Aircraft collected their prizes. A thoroughly corrupt returning veteran, Wayne Ogden, has returned and has his own reasons for stopping that operation by whatever means necessary.

The Walkaway has Phillips’s dry, dark wit, and the writing never interferes with what he wants to say. He weaves at least three stories together with virtuosity: Gunther’s mission, the search for Gunther, and flashbacks of what transpired after the war, all of which are related. Elements of The Ice Harvest are referenced. Readers of the more recent The Adjustment will recognize Wayne Ogden, as Phillips integrated that story into seams of this one. (I hadn’t read The Walkaway when I read The Adjustment. It was a unique experience to see how he had worked the two together from the other side, so to speak.)

I had a little trouble keeping everyone straight in the beginning. Hang in there. Phillips combs out the threads of each story line from the initial ball of fabric until each character and story line has its own personality. Before long you’re shifting points of view and time periods effortlessly, fascinated as each scene brings meaning to others.

By the end I was caught up in Gunther’s story. He was what he was and did what he did earlier in life. Now he’s a confused old man who isn’t sure what he’s done or what to do about it. I’ve never read a book by Phillips I didn’t enjoy; The Walkaway is special. It contains all the things that show Phillips’s skills while probing emotions in a unsentimental manner that allows the reader to draw his own conclusions and discover his own emotions. A wonderful book.

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