November 11, 2010
Tony O’Neill suggested Mark SaFranko‘s novel to me, and lately I’ve been a huge fan of anything that comes out of Harper Perennial trade paperbacks (the fine folks over there have been sending things my way left and right, and I’m grateful). Tony is the author of the August release, Sick City, and wrote a When We Fell in Love essay for us, and Mark will follow later this week with one of his own, plus I’m going to have an interview with Mark next week. Hating Olivia goes on sale, 11/16.
This book didn’t go the way I thought it would, I was thrown by the title, as hating someone is very serious. Sure, I hate people, some people, and they know it, and I think that kind of hate is a good thing, keeps things in perspective, which you’ve all heard before. But when I read this book, I thought it would be about a relationship that was piss and vinegar, don’t get me wrong, SaFranko certainly lays it out that way, but I thought it would be kitchen sink and all, it’s a slow burn, and flesh melting at that. This is a story that takes a while to get going, but when it roars, you have no chance but to get sucked in.
Max Zajack is an updated version of Charles Bukowski, there really isn’t getting around that comparison. Where Bukowski left off, with say, Post Office, SaFranko continues on in the adventures of a gainfully unemployed writer, this time tossing in a drowning woman.
Olivia is falling down the elevator shaft of life, and Max just happens to reach out and grab her hand, and she takes him down him down with her and before we know it Max’s former life of shitty jobs and lousy digs turns into a ray of sunshine in the form of Olivia, who not surprisingly to this reader nearly fucks Max to death. At first there is a been there done that vibe coming off Max, and Olivia seems only slightly unhinged, an episode that is vividly rendered in a shopping mall which would set alarms off in most men I know. But not Max, he can’t keep his dick out of Olivia, and she can’t stop herself, from being, well, herself. She spends recklessly, drinks and eats and fucks, and raps about life, and seems to be taking it all in with two hands.
Max is a writer, and has been stumbling along the road to a novel, and I was excited to see how SaFranko handled this, and when his career as a writer goes up and then down, I was happily suprised that the cliche which was hanging on the line for Max to grab was quickly tossed aside. I liked Olivia, in the way anyone likes how a woman can sometimes lull you into a false sense of security, usually because their game is so good, but when she shits the bed she does it royally. Max isn’t a prince either He can’t hold a job, and even fucks up delivering the local newspaper. SaFranko does a fine job portraying the grind that is life, how men just don’t have it in them to go to battle every day, and the ones that do have lost their souls in the process, or never had the minerals to do what they really wanted with there lives. Max can’t do more than wait around to get laid and hope the muse comes with it, Olivia in all her bad ways lights the fire under Max, frees him from thinking about the novel so he can actually write the damn thing. I don’t know why a man with such limited aspirations wants to write, especially a novel, why anyone would try that is beyond me. Safranko bucked my expectation with this fine story, and even though Max says he and Olivia have been together for years, the book only feels like a few minutes.
This story is almost a memoir, well, it has that feel anyway, like a rememberance, and it has such an efficiently light touch when it comes to comedy and even when his characters run out of room with each other, SaFranko locks the door on them and keeps them together to see what will happen when the oxygen runs out. You’ll admire the restraint when it comes to detail, it’s easy, and doled out evenly, but never too much, just enough to give you a taste of Max and his world. You’ll be hearing more from Mark SaFranko, not only here on the blog, but out in the real world, and I’m happy to be the one of the first ones to tell you about this novel. -JR