Verve and daring continue in nihilistic roller-coaster
The Glass Kingdom By Chris Flynn Text Publishing, 235pp, $29.99 IN his scintillating, episodically shocking, first novel, A Tiger in Eden (2012), Chris Flynn set down in Thailand a Loyalist on the run from the Northern Ireland police and let this juxtaposition do its work of mayhem. He showed a masterly control of the voice of Billy Montgomery, his anti-hero (as these characters used to be called — now there is no other kind) and in the depiction of violent action.
Flynn’s second novel, The Glass Kingdom, shows no slackening of narrative verve or daring. Its first part is told by another hard man,
May 31-June 1, 2014 Corporal Benjamin Wallace, a veteran of the Afghan war, scarred in combat in Oruzgan. Now he runs Target Ball at ‘‘the unpopular end of sideshow alley’’ in the travelling carnival called the Kingdom. This is the front for his dealing from the methamphetamine labs that he runs along the eastern seaboard. His destructive career has been embarked on as an act of vengeance and of self-loathing.
Ben has no sympathy for those who patronise the carnival and buy his wares. ‘‘People hate each other in these godforsaken places,’’ he ponders, but also thinks more gently of how ‘‘I’d seen my fair share of weary people by the side of the road and behind the counter in diners and out the back of bars’’. He is also familiar with ‘‘bored women dragging slouching kids and unemployed husbands around the stalls’’.
To take care of the Target Ball business, Ben has hired a scrawny, cunning youth in an outsized Fremantle Dockers jumper called Mickey Dempster, whose rap name is Mekong Delta. Flynn brilliantly gives rap lyrics to this hyperactive figure, of which a few lines can safely be quoted: ‘‘Join up wit NASA an’ fly to Venus/ Read the news on TV like Anton Enus/Run away wit da circus like Bailey an’ Barnum/Or become a rock singer like Johnny Farnham.’’
The novel’s second narrative voice is that of Zoltan, ‘‘Master of Electricity’’, who has come a long way from the Rhondda Valley in Wales, and who now reflects, resignedly, on the consequences of his act. His application of electrodes has left ‘‘the desolate field that now occupies the place where my memory used to be’’. He can still explain the childhood damage that has sent Benji — as he has known him since he was born in 1981 — on his present course.
The boy’s cruel father, the ‘‘repugnant’’ Francis, ran the Target Ball concession. His neglectful mother was Evalisse, tattooed stripper and sword-swallower. Their abused child has become the harsh ex-soldier who now pensions them off, seizes the business and seems bent on inflicting harm on others and himself, albeit with a frightening, wry detachment periodically interrupted by violent enforcement of his will. It is a perhaps perverse triumph of Flynn’s art to make Ben the most sympathetic character in his cast of hapless victims and cold-eyed predators.
A large and exciting share of the novel concerns Ben’s pursuit of Mickey, who has stolen drug money and the aged Datsun of Ben’s girlfriend, Steph (whose work on the Kingdom is ‘‘telling fortunes and giving massages’’). The chase leads them across the blasted social landscape of northern NSW: meth labs, guard dogs