A Good Man
Thomas Martin is a caring, loving, reliable husband, father, son and brother. Until he isn’t.
Thomas Martin works hard. He is almost a workaholic, but just about manages to balance his burgeoning career in a prominent advertising company with his homelife on Long Island. He wants the best for his wife and daughter. And even though he doesn’t particularly approve of their slightly Bohemian lifestyle, he has never forgotten his duty to care for his mother and twin sisters.
But Thomas has an increasingly loose relationship with reality as the stresses of work and family take their toll on his already fragile lucidity. Memories twist and warp to justify his actions and reactions. Little wonder that to those on the outside looking in, Thomas is a monster.
Imagine a story written in Marmite - dark, intense and hugely controversial – and you will have a feel for A Good Man. Some will find the sense of foreboding that screams from the non-linear first chapter captivating. Others will find it sets the tone for a miserable no-hope read. Some will find the foreshadowing subtle, but others will miss it and believe the story stagnates until almost the end. Some will feel sorry for the self-proclaimed protagonist – the first-person unreliable narrator, whilst others will hate every character in the book, particularly Thomas. The optimistic readers will hope that the disaster mentioned at the beginning is not as bad as all that. The pessimists won’t.
Perhaps because I am an insufferable optimist, this book, although completely different, reminds me of the desperate inevitability in the novel On the Beach by Nevil Shute. I want a bearable outcome if not a happy ending. I want the protagonist to achieve a degree of redemption. And for those reasons, like Nevil Shute’s novel, this story will stay with me for a long time.
The author knows how to create atmosphere and a sense of oppression. I found it a little heavy on the description in places, but overall well written. I am not a fan of excised quotation marks, particularly when the author continues to use speech tags. It can be distracting and pull the reader out of the story if they are used to traditional writing. However, I acclimatised to the gimmicky style, even eventually managing to ignore it.
There is a lot of tell, especially in the early chapters where Thomas has decided to start his story, around the time that he meets his wife-to-be. It does nothing to draw the reader closer to the unlikeable protagonist and is quite distancing. Thomas’s mother and sisters are caricatures of non-conformist people, although vividly portrayed. I couldn’t connect with them, despite their tragic backstory. I finished the book hardly remembering Thomas’s wife and daughter, because they are surprisingly two dimensional. That may be because as Thomas’s mind unravels, he stops calling his entourage by their names, referring to them as my wife, my daughter, my sisters. They become his possessions through this subtle modification in his introspections.
The frequent references and analogies to various operas may well put some readers off because they are anything but brief. It is almost as if the author is aiming for highbrow. Sadly, even to a musician, it comes across as trumpet blowing.
Readers hungry for an in-depth study of a man searching for control, power and ownership will find satisfaction in A Good Man. But caveat emptor – this story inevitably hurtles at the end towards a chilling finale.
Reviewed 04 July 2020 by
Kati Barr-Taylor lives in her
‘cosy pigsty’ in the Dordogne. She satisfies her literary cravings by
translating, writing, editing and reading.