Hard-Hitting, Hard-Boiled Fiction

Hard-Hitting, Hard-Boiled Fiction

Review of Jack Remick’s Man Alone

By Jack Smith, WTP Guest Writer

Man Alone by Jack Remick (Sidekick Press, August 2023; 120 pp.; $16.94; ISBN 9781958808153).

Jack Remick is the author of numerous works of fiction. His most recent work, Man Alone, is hard-boiled fiction at its best. In a series of short scenes with clipped dialogue, it’s a novella that packs a real punch from the opening lines to the end.

Set in Seattle, this is an existential novel of protagonist Zene, a man on the social outs, with a history of dead-end jobs, a man with a history of violence if the situation demanded it. When the novella opens, he’s been drinking in a bar for six hours straight. When he’s drinking, he doesn’t have to think.

When Zene gets a job in a convenience store, it appears that his life will now change for the better since he stops drinking. But some residual traits remain—namely, his penchant for violence. When a couple of “stoned teenagers” show up to shoplift, Zene comes close to killing them, and he thinks: “They didn’t know that when a man alone has nothing to live for, he sees dying as an excuse to chop homo sapiens down to the bone and grind his meat.”

Remick’s masterstroke is the introduction of Karizma, who is connected to Zene from way back in high school, fifteen years ago. He asked her to the senior prom; she accepted, but then didn’t show up. This bottomed him out. When she enters the convenience store, Zene doesn’t want to look at her. “There were a million reasons to get out of Seattle and she was number one.” To be stood up for that prom made him feel like “nothing.” She begins making regular trips to the convenience store. He soon looks forward to her “solo visits” instead of when she brings a friend with her.  He struggles with times when she doesn’t show up. She wants to make up with him, but he’s not able to get beyond what happened fifteen years ago. He’s divided: “He knew she was disaster, he also knew she was the most desirable woman he had ever known.” Truth be told, she’s a sexual powerhouse to him, the “injection of high potency xylocaine.”

Much of the novel’s darkness centers on Karisma’s private life, which Remick covers in dark, excruciating detail, creating a haunting sense of doom about her. Karizma isn’t the same woman she was back in high school. Zene can see she’s had a “hard life”; she’s experienced “pain and hurt.” Like him, “she was hitting bottom.” She’s got welts on her legs. At first, she won’t tell him how she got them, other than to say “There are men who need to humiliate black women.” In general, she’s been “vulnerable,” as she puts it, a punching bag for her cruel father, who raped and brutalized her. Because of that, on the day of the prom she was forced to break her date with Zene. Now, when she becomes his sexual partner, he wants to know her fully, “as deep as it’s possible to know another human being.” Her reaction to this is “I don’t think I’m human anymore.”

Remick cleverly raises the stakes. Karizma’s pain isn’t just in the past. It’s now—and it’s ongoing. Her husband, Alfred, is a tyrant. He takes satisfaction in controlling her spending so that she has hardly enough to buy food; as a result, she turned prostitute. This accounts for her welts. She hopes Zene doesn’t hate her.  He says, “You’re down, Kari.  I know all this.  I’ve been down there too.”

With these dynamics established, with Karizma’s hurt palpable, Remick gives the plot a compelling twist: Karizma pleads with Zene to kill Alfred. We’ve witnessed Zene’s capacity for violence, but as to murder, Zene says, “That’s dangerous talk.” But to himself he rationalizes: “To be human and to kill was as natural as breathing.” Civilization isn’t able to hold this primitive urge in check anymore, he thinks. And as to Karizma, even if he doesn’t love her, “everything he needed to start over was in her.” Still, he’s about to complete what he’s seen as a downward spiral in his life: “Every minute of every day he had sunk deeper.”

This novel is a fast read. It’s layered with character and plot twists that fulfill readers’ expectations for a hard-boiled crime novel—or in film, noir. In literary terms, it’s a hard-hitting existential novel. Remick keeps us on the edge of our seats with tight, energetic writing and unforgettable characters.

Jack Smith is a fiction writer with short story publications in North American Review, Texas Review, Southern Review, Night Train, and others. His novel Hog to Hogwon the George Garrett Fiction Prize and was published by Texas Review Press in 2008. He has published five other novels: Icon, Being, Miss Manners for War Criminals, Run, and If Winer Comes, all published by Serving House Books. He has published reviews in numerous literary magazines, including Ploughshares, Georgia Review, Missouri Review, Prairie  Schooner, American Book Review, Pleiades, Texas Review, Mid-American Review, and Iowa Review.

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