Monday, August 15, 2011

Book: Getting Off, by Lawrence Block writing as Jill Emerson (2011)

My short review: Damn, this book is fucked up. Would that Kirkus could be so succinct.

Getting Off is a landmark in a number of ways. It relaunches the indispensible Hard Case Crime after the line’s hiatus. It’s Hard Case’s first hardcover. It’s the first original novel Lawrence Block has written for them. And it marks Block’s return to the Jill Emerson pseudonym he used for a number of shall-we-say earthy novels several decades ago.

The protagonist is Kit Tolliver, although she so scarcely uses that name it’s strange for me to do so. She dons a new identity, chooses a man, has sex with him, and then kills him. It’s a pattern of behavior that erupts out of a childhood trauma. Then Kit realizes that there a few men – five, to be precise – who have bedded her and lived to tell the tale. And she decides that’s five too many.

It’s a testament to Block’s skill that you end up embracing Kit’s lunatic logic. But you do; you want her to track down those five men who are at once lucky and hugely unlucky. The book has something of a picaresque structure, with Kit moving around the country and acting as a magnet for trouble, attracting people who are even worse than she is. Getting Off is frequently very funny, with a sharp satirical edge that cuts into sexual mores and the notion of healing through closure. But it also has real insight into Kit’s state of mind. The prose is smooth – no surprise there; this is Lawrence Block, after all – which lends an added kick to the plentiful sex and equally plentiful violence. And above all it’s a non-judgmental book, which for some may be the biggest shock of all. Compelling and fascinating, it’s a welcome return for both Hard Case and Jill Emerson.

UPDATE: Here’s my Q&A with Lawrence Block.