The day hadn't started so good. Vernon Saul had been plagues by bad dreams the night before - his mind churning up images of pain and torment from his childhood - and woke up covered in sweat, the stink of his long-dead father like a live thing in the airless bedroom.
My first Roger Smith was like taking my first shot of whiskey. My eyes watered, I choked up and wondered what the hell was happening to me, for a moment, but I knew I wanted more. It was last Spring when I read DUST DEVILS. Four months later, I read my third Smith, his new novel CAPTURE. Like fine wine, the South African gets better with time and age. He doesn't get mellower or sentimental, but a lot more precise, lethal. CAPTURE has the violence and the hopelessness of DUST DEVILS, but not its political character. So it still grasps the zeigeist of the beautiful, but torn country of South Africa, while also being more atmospheric and have a more universal appeal. With CAPTURE, Roger Smith puts a knife through what you take for granted and that's why we love him.
One of the many charming aspects of CAPTURE is its thoroughly ambitious scope. I would qualify it of "Lehane-ian", which is a third degree black belt compliment in my book. You don't understand right away what's at stake, you have to work your way through a situation first. That situation is the preventable death of Sunny Exley, a four year who drowned at the beach, who Vernon Saul might have been able to save. He's not that guy, though. He's a crooked cop with a foothold in Cape Town's underbelly, not a hero. In Sunny's death, he establishes a relationship with her parents Nick and Caroline Exley, who are themselves drowning in their own sorrow. As Vernon gets closer to Nick and improves his control over him, he realizes that there's something wrong with the guy. The life of Nick Exley was built on shaky foundations and as it starts crumbling with Sunny's death, what's left of him doesn't have much to do with the man he once pretended to be.
Nick Exley is a tremendous creation. He is the most complex, inscrutable and conflicted character Roger Smith has ever written. He projects a certain image of himself he doesn't fully understand and therefore needs to constantly recreate the traumatic parts of his life through the 3D motion capture software he's working with, as a mean to put distance in between his life and himself. It's the first time in memory that I've read something so truly morbid that involved high-end computer technology. He's torn between his relationship to Dawn, which he sees as redemption and his now mediated relationship to his family, of which now he has complete control. There are some truly disturbing scene involving the modeling software, where a broken man struggles to understand his condition. Darkness keeps welling inside of Nick and the great thing about it is that he keeps denying the obvious. He becomes this gloomy individual and still thrives for his shot at redemption.
Exley wakes at his workstation, keyboard denting his cheek, the strobing monitor agitating his eyes through their closed lids.
As he sits up and squints at the wireframe that still dances, he can't stop himself from sliding back along the timeline to the moment when Sunny came to him on the beach, desperate for his attention.
But now, in his fantasy, he hands the joint to Shane Porter and he turns to Sunny and sees her pointing to the little sailboat, bobbing in the waves like some cheesy Hollywood model shot from pre-digital days, and he hauls the boat to safety and gives it to his daughter, who, as a result, is safely asleep upstairs, her golden hair covering her pillow like fleece.
To give you a comparison item for the overall tone of CAPTURE, think of the old Michael Douglas thriller, when he was actually good. The FATAL ATTRACTION and BASIC INSTINCT eras. Douglas was the king at being these "good guys" who weren't all that nice. Roger Smith pushes the envelope of this breed of psychological thriller to make it an oddly moving novel. I have a weak spot for those novels where good and bad are well-defined at the beginning, but where it gets blurrier and blurrier as you turn the pages. CAPTURE is exactly that. It's a claustrophobic, confrontational thriller about a man who never really understood the potency of his need for control. While never getting philosophical about it, Roger Smith has written a novel about a man, looking for order and only creating more and more chaos.You CAPTURE is a novel about the nihilistic downsides of idealism and to me, a novel that creates meaning from cold, hard reality achieves the highest possible goals literature can. CAPTURE is one of my favorite novels of 2012.
I'm a pop culture blogger and author living in Montreal, Canada with my better half Josie and my dog Scarlett. I am a proud member of author collective Zelmer Pulp and have about a dozen of short stories published to my resume.