Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book: You’re Next, by Gregg Hurwitz (2011)

The thriller with the everyman protagonist always makes me leery. The purported regular Joes of the genre are often grab bags of awesomeness, checklists of plot-convenient traits. Meet our just-plain-folks hero, a garden variety biochemist who studies krav maga and has the world’s largest collection of 18th century Swiss clocks. He suffers from synesthesia and is estranged from his sister, the Attorney General of the United States, with whom he shares a Dark Secret. When an army of ruthless assassins starts hunting him down, he asks, “Why? There’s nothing special about me!”

You’re Next by Gregg Hurwitz avoids Checklist Syndrome. Mike Wingate actually is an ordinary guy, one who has triumphed over adversity. After being abandoned to foster care at age four, he has built a life for himself as a husband, father, and businessman. When mysterious figures come gunning for him, Wingate fears it has to do with a childhood he doesn’t remember.

Every detail pays off smartly. The “green” housing project Mike is building that initially seems like, well, the kind of way-cool job a guy in a book like this usually has, sets up an interesting moral dilemma and brings Mike unwanted public attention. Mike’s troubled history also allows Hurwitz to make effective use of another thriller convention: the genially psychotic sidekick. And the explanation for why Mike has been targeted is both unexpected and plausible. Factor in Hurwitz’s usual craftsmanship and the result is a winner.

ASIDE: A recent Hollywood Reporter article about the surprise success of Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris suggests that the movie struck a chord with audiences because of Owen Wilson’s “everyman” lead character. A rich Hollywood screenwriter willing to chuck his career to become a novelist and who is engaged to Rachel McAdams, gorgeous in a manner reminiscent of Rachel McAdams? This is an everyman? I refer you to my learned colleague Mr. Montoya. Then again, Wilson is not playing a fallen Norse god or a kid with a sentient robot car. He’s just a guy trying to sort out his life. Maybe that does make him an everyman, or at least as close as we’re going to get during the summer movie season.