Tuesday, June 8, 2010

THUNDER BEACH - Michael Lister

FIRST LINE: "The neon-lit night is electric."

Merrick McKnight is an unemployed journalist who also happens to be in love with Regan, a married stripper. His intelligent sensibilities tell him he needs to cut all ties with Regan, but he's unable to tell her "no" whenever she calls.  Her hot and cold behavior patterns leave him in a constant state of unrest. However, Panama City's Thunder Beach motorcycle rally brings along a distraction for Merrick. On the cover of the rally's magazine Merrick discovers his former step-daughter. Merrick lost track of Casey and her brother Kevin after their mother, Merrick's wife, died in an auto accident with Merrick's infant son Ty. Wanting to connect with Casey and Kevin again, Merrick goes to work tracking Casey down only to find a world of trouble Casey has worked her way into, a world Merrick may not be able to help her out of.

Readers won't have to read far to note Michael Lister's signature prose. He brings a poetic sound to his writing and THUNDER BEACH is no exception. The characters and worlds come alive through the words:

"Vandals have broken all the windows of the tile and mason concession stand, and in purple spray paint written SATAN EATS HERE. All rides removed, all that remains of the once thriving amusement park is a dozen or so mostly empty buildings. Some of the rides appear to be present because their buildings, so identified with them, still stand - the old spooky structure of The Haunted Castle, the green monster of The Abominable Snowman, the red devil of Dante's Inferno - but they are just shells, gutted of the amusement they used to house."

Not only is Lister describing a deserted amusement park, but his choice of rides also work to set the tone and paint a vivid picture of the dark surrounding.

THUNDER BEACH is chock full of damaged characters, struggling to find their own identities, their places in life. Merrick narrates his tale, but Lister brings Merrick's own issues to light through Merrick's thoughts and interactions with the other characters. The psychological is a vital element of THUNDER BEACH, and Merrick displays all the classic signs of codependency:

"Is it that her pattern of cutting me off after having given me some of the connection I so long for has me addicted? Is the unhealthy dynamic actually feeding the flame of desire? Or does the deepest part of me - my what? Soul? Essence? - know something beyond thought, beyond reason? Of course, I want to think it's the latter, but can't help but worry it's the former."

The mental aspects of the novel tie in well to the distinctive formatting Lister uses throughout the novel. There are no quotation marks. Instead Lister makes use of an em dash to indicate a character is speaking. And Merrick is telling the story in the present tense. It is almost as though the reader is simply riding around the story instead Merrick's brain. The reader hears when Merrick hears, sees when Merrick sees.

The themes of THUNDER BEACH also lend themselves to a very dark, noirish novel: strip clubs, the sex trade, murder, intolerance.

Without giving any kind of spoilers, I will say there were a couple things that caught me off guard and I felt they weren't consistent with the rest of the story and the over-reaching tone, but overall I found myself reading through THUNDER BEACH quickly to reach the resolution. I continue to enjoy being caught up in Michael Lister's unique story-telling.

THUNDER BEACH is available now from Tyrus books in both hardcover (ISBN: 978-1-935-56205-4) and trade paper (ISBN: 978-1-935-56204-7).

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