‘Lurid & Cute’ by Adam Thirlwell (2015) – 358 pages
My short review of ‘Lurid & Cute’ is that this novel is too lurid & too cute. However since “Lurid & Cute’ is shortlisted for the Goldsmith’s prize, I will go into more detail about my monumental problems with this somewhat comic novel.
Our hero wakes up in a seedy hotel room lying next to a woman who is bleeding severely from her eyes due to a seizure or an attack or the drug ketamine. This woman is not his wife who is at home. The situation is classic noir, similar to countless pulp detective novels. However the style of writing here is far from noir. Noir stories are usually told in a clipped style, abrupt and matter-of-fact and to the point. Here the style is expansive and flippant, and the author over-explains just about everything. I won’t quote one of these over-explanations since they are interminably long and nearly incoherent and sure to test a reader’s patience. Despite the author’s analyzing to death, we are never told basic things like how the woman’s injuries were sustained. It might have been the drugs.
Although my experience with mind-altering drugs is quite limited to some marijuana and hashish, I do remember that at one point feeling that the thoughts I was having on the drugs were the most profound of my life. Later after the drugs wore off and I tried to recapture these profound thoughts, I realized that my drug-addled thinking was just off. That is pretty much how I feel about ‘Lurid & Cute’.
Our hero here participates in a couple of armed robberies, a trip to a brothel, and an orgy, all to little effect.
My basic problem with ‘Lurid & Cute’ is that I totally disliked the narrator. I found him facetious, pseudo-profound, and lacking any real insight. I suppose it is possible to empathize with an armed robber brandishing a toy gun, but I found this one’s interior voice even more annoying than his outward behavior. Adam Thirlwell does address the question of a protagonist’s disagreeableness at length in the novel itself. I have appreciated many novels where the main character is thoroughly unlikeable like Raskolnikov in Dostoyevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’, but in these other novels you can either empathize or even identify with the main protagonist despite or because of their failings. I neither empathized nor identified with the main character in ‘Lurid and Cute’ at all. I found his behavior and thoughts throughout the novel obnoxiously cartoonish without any redeeming qualities whatsoever.
So here we have a narrator no one could possibly care about blabbering on about his despicable behavior in a tiresome fashion. If the author doesn’t take his or her subject seriously, it is difficult for the reader to care either. This is true for comedy as well as tragedy.