Book Review : Alec Cizak - Down on the Street (2017)
The working class is slowly phasing out in America and in developed countries in general. Labor costs less elsewhere, so jobs are outsourced overseas. And even local jobs are sometimes given to an immigrant workforce, which is more docile and likely to put up with inhumane work condition. Down on the Street, by Alec Cizak shows the American perspective on this economic clusterfuck. Sure, there are guns, pimps and hoes in the novel too, but they are kind of an extra, like the breadsticks when you order Domino's.
Down on the Street tells the story of Lester, a cab driver struggling to make ends meet. He's somewhat in love with his neighbor Chelsea, a young a desirable prostitute. Chelsea's in a bind too because her landlord is looking for a reason to kick her out. She's been a disturbing presence, a bad tenant and, quite frankly, every old and bitter woman in the apartment building is jealous of her. So, Lester has a terrible idea : why doesn't he drive her to clients and take charge of her protection, so they can split the revenues 50/50. And it turns into as much of a catastrophe as you might think.
I'm on the fence about Down on the Street. On one hand, it's a very predictable novel. There's not a hundred ways a loser cabbie and his sex-crazed neighbor getting into the prostitution game alone could've turned out, so you run out of surprises around page 18 or so, and it's a cardinal sin of storytelling. Tragedies (or tragi-comedies in this case) are predictable by design, but you gotta have speed bumps and hard turns along the way. A good example of that is Cold in July, by Joe Lansdale. You understand soon what is going to happen, but it's how the novel gets there that blows your fucking mind. The road from point A to point B is straight and narrow here.
The thing about Down on the Street that fascinated me were the seemingly unimportant details. My favorite one is when Lester's favorite call girl Honey drops a Bill Haley-themed keychain on the floor at some point. That made her the most interesting character in the book right away because it alluded to a different life she lead at some point. What did it remember her? Who was she before she was Honey? It made me try to read through her behaviors whenever she was on page. I thought Chelsea's motivational posters and literature, and the twentieth century memorabilia that's constantly surrounding Lester were also moving. I found myself wanting to know who the characters in Down on the Street were, no what they were going to do.
Down on the Street definitely wasn't a waste of my time, but it struck me as a novel that didn't quite understand what it was good at. There's a broken, but still beating heart to it that I really enjoyed and I wanted to know how it broke instead of watching it get hammered into small pieces. Other reviewers compared it to Bukowski, which is a little far fetched, but not necessarily wrong. Try it if you're looking for a novel on the American working class. I seem to have been one of the only dissenting opinions about it, so you'll have to make up your own mind, I guess.