Sunday, March 29, 2009

Seasons don't Beat the Reaper

As much as I love YA lit, every now and again I just have to escape from that world with an adult book. Yes, here's my secret: I love adult literary fiction. Thanks to the wonderful people at Hachette Book Group's adult publicity department, I acquired a promotional copy of Beat the Reaper by first-time novelist Josh Bazell. It took me a long time to pick up, but once I picked it up I couldn't put it down. Lucky for the book, Numb3rs was pre-empted by the NCAA tournament this weekend.

The plot: This is not a book that is supposed to work, given all its elements of weird. Lest we get too caught up in current literary trends, there is not a single supernatural creature in this book, which scores big points with me. What makes this book weird is, well, everything else that goes on. The central character is Dr. Peter Brown, formerly known as Pietro Brwna, a former, and very talented, mob hitman. He's currently in witness protection, working at Manhattan Catholic Hospital. Take his word for it: ManCat is not a place you want to go when you're well, never mind when you're sick. It's just another day of making rounds when he enters the room of Eddy Squillante, a mafia member who recognizes him immediately. Squillante's in for some major surgery and doesn't know he's got a hack for a doctor. What he does know is that he's hit pay dirt. Before Peter/Pietro can stop him, Squillante's put in a call to the mob. If he dies during surgery, his hit men will be on Peter/Pietro regardless of who's at fault for his death.

Why you'll love it: With all its crazy side plots and the back-and-forth movement through Pietro's memories and his current dilemma, not to mention the footnotes, you'd think this book would just get too tangled in itself. Instead, it's simultaneously horrific and hilarious and kind of gross. Pietro has strong morals and has zero compunctions about causing violence if he believes it will benefit the smaller and weaker. Tied into Pietro's story are notes on north Jersey/NYC mafia history, a romance, and the unsanitary side of medicine. It's House meets The Sopranos sprinkled with bitter humor.

Is this a YA novel by any stretch of the imagination? No. But it's exactly what I needed, and what I was looking for. I'm a fan of Chuck Palahniuk and this is a great next-read for his readers.

Review in the NY Times || Interview with Josh Bazell at Three Guys One Book || Interview in New York Magazine

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