THE BABY KILLERS akaÂ BAD FOR GOOD
by Declan Burke
Review by Mike Dennis
How do you explain a novel like Bad For Good? I guess you could start by calling it a voyeuristic peek at the anxieties and uncertainties surrounding the writing process. In the advance reading copy (no cover available), Irish author Declan Burke has crafted a very sly original tale, containing a novel-within-a-novel, that often borders on farce.
Burke, to begin with, is obviously your basic tortured author, having to deal with the demons of publisher rejection concurrent with the overwhelming demands of daily family life. His wife and daughter need him, and he feels the stinging need to provide for them, but his latest work-in-progress, a novel that has to do with blowing up a hospital, is going nowhere. He grows desperate.
Finally, in a last-ditch attempt to make the book salable, he resorts to having a running conversation with one of his characters, hoping to pick up some ideas. The character, however, has ideas of his own. Thus begins a continuing tug-of-war between the two.
The character, who has changed his own name to Billy, is trying to get Burke to write a dark-crime book. It’s about wiping out a hospital, after all. Burke, however, is convinced that “comedy crime” is the way to go. That’s what he feels in his gut, but Billy presents some compelling reasons not to take the book in that direction. This is but one of their many differences of opinion.
They sit around plotting the murder of other characters, and Burke allows himself to be browbeaten into allowing Billy to write part of the novel. Seems Billy doesn’t like Burke’s handling of the story arc.
The book contains no chapters, but rather is divided into four large sections. The sequences appear in a sort of rapid-fire style, separated by scene breaks, sometimes no longer than a few sentences. You’ll be reading a heated discussion between Burke and Billy about some new wrinkle in the plot that Billy doesn’t like, then the book may jump to Burke’s latest home-life conflict, then into actual passages from the novel-within-a-novel, then back to conversing with Billy. On and on it goes like this, whirling along, often putting a big smile on the face of the reader.
Burke’s characters concern themselves with quoting Camus and Nietzsche, while he worries about his infant daughter’s future. Billy, meanwhile, has another agenda entirely. The book is a dizzying ride through all phases of author angst, including the ending (which you won’t see coming), and Burke has deftly pushed the envelope just about as far as it can go.