Verdict: Surprisingly interwoven stories come together perfectly in THIS SIDE OF ZERO, an intensely disturbing novel about family dysfunction and small-town mentality.
Told from varying points of view, this creepy tale of family dysfunction, personality disorders, and addiction is told through entries in a little black book, letters to family members, a police report, and the uncensored thoughts of the unreliable narrator and primary protagonist, Carl. Set in a small, claustrophobic Minnesota town, the pieces, parts, and players fit together to form an intricate puzzle that will keep readers guessing until the end.
Twenty-five years old, single, and working two jobs as a shipping clerk and apartment-building maintenance man, Carl and his neighbor, Denise, have known each other for most of their lives, yet she maintains a friendly distance from him despite his desire for a romantic relationship. He’s a weird underachiever with a raging case of obsessive compulsive disorder, and she’s an alcoholic with a soft spot for narcissistic boyfriends who cheat on her. Her current boyfriend is Rex, an amoral sex addict who happens to be a co-worker of Carl’s at the shipping company.
These three central characters are surrounded by a supporting cast of dysfunctional neighbors, horny co-workers and clients, a little boy and his diarrhea-prone dog, and other relatives of Carl, Denise, and Rex. Early in the novel, an unexpected death triggers a chain of events that grows more violent and demented as each chapter unfolds. Even with their substantial emotional damage, each of the three main characters has some redeeming qualities (including an appreciation for dark humor). At 343 pages, this book requires an investment of time and emotion by readers; fans of dark psychological thrillers should provide both willingly.
The author successfully differentiates between various narrators by separating each section, using a font style unique to that character, and changing the word choices, perspective, and (in the case of the little boy) spelling, to avoid reader confusion. This approach leads to occasional overlap as we see the same scene from the opposing character’s point of view. Professionally executed, this strategy pays off and adds another layer of depth. People, places, and props have been manipulated, but never the reader.
This book obviously has been edited, but some typos (“Big Mack” instead of “Big Mac”), incorrect word choices (“dilute” instead of “delude,” “junky” instead of “junkie”), and grammatical errors (“lay” instead of “lie,” “went” instead of “gone”) remain. One more round of editing should do the trick and elevate the language to the masterful level of the storytelling.
In his second novel, author Eric Linnell delivers intricate plotting, page-turning suspense, lively characterization, intriguing dialogue, and touches of humor in a darkly tragic story that offers glimmers of hope.
Surprisingly interwoven stories come together perfectly in this intensely disturbing novel about family dysfunction and small-town mentality.
~Carol Michaels for IndieReader