Friday, June 13, 2008

Friday’s Forgotten Books: Violence, Nudity, Adult Content, by Vince Passaro (2002)

I trust you’re all reading Friday’s Forgotten Books, the web series initiated by Patti Abbott. I was flattered when Patti invited me to contribute. Of course, that meant I had to pick a book. Luckily, I had my selection at the ready.

I’m loathe to call Vince Passaro’s Violence, Nudity, Adult Content forgotten. It’s not that old, for starters, so I’d prefer to think of it as a late breaker, the whip end of the long tail. I’ve got an idea of why it perhaps didn’t make the mark it should have, in spite of:

A.) Having a truly awesome title; and
B.) Delivering on the promise of said title.

The biggest problem faced by Passaro’s first and to date only novel is that the book does so many things well that it’s difficult to know how to classify it. Let’s review.

V/N/AC is a legal thriller. Will Riordan is an attorney at a Manhattan law firm, earmarked for partner. His up-and-comer status lands him two difficult clients: a wealthy man accused of murdering the wife in the midst of divorcing him, and a rape victim traumatized to the point of constructing elaborate and plausible revenge fantasies. Both cases develop in unexpected, startling ways. Not perfectly; if the book has a weakness it’s the emails that the latter client begins sending to Will, a device that smacks of an MFA workshop. But even those messages come to exert their own fascination.

V/N/AC is a novel of work. The endless quest for billable hours. The toll those hours take. Humiliations large and small. Compromises both noticed and unremarked upon. All of them ruthlessly anatomized.

V/N/AC is a story of New York. Maybe the best I’ve read in the last ten years. Passaro perfectly captures the endless sense of effort, the twinned feelings of exhaustion and exhilaration, that living in the city brings. Will’s chance encounters on the subway have a fierce, unalloyed beauty to them.

V/N/AC is a portrait of a failing marriage. Will and his wife Ellie are in love with each other, but not with their lives. Passaro pulls no punches in depicting their mutual hostility, or their awkward struggle toward reconciliation.

What’s more, he delivers all of the above with emotional honesty, sharp detail, and a dizzying flair for language. Had Tom Wolfe or Richard Price written this novel, it would have been one of the most acclaimed of its year. Instead, it’s simply a book I haven’t forgotten.