Book Review : Bob Truluck - The Big Nothing (2016)
Florida-based self proclaimed pop noirist Bob Truluck is a tough cat to peg. He writes books about greed, betrayal and self-serving bastards like many other noirists do, but he mastered a free-flowing style that makes his novel original and unpredictable. Flat White was a detective novel, but it was also a noir and somewhat of a tragedy. I had a wicked time with it. Truluck's new standalone novel The Big Nothing looked like something radically different from his Duncan Sloan novels, which didn't bother me since style is such an important variable to his writing. The crooked tree on the cover and the Florida setting hinted at strong Southern Gothic inspiration and The Big Nothing delivered exactly that, with a Truluck-ian twist. While it didn't quite measure up to Flat White for me, but it was a sassy and sneaky-smart noir with enough personality to outgrow traditional noir readership.
The Big Nothing is the story of Marty Pell, who just spent three years in the slammer. He's an absolute mess and lost hope to ever live a normal life. His old partner Shad Dupree has a project to keep Marty going: twenty-seven million dollars worth of gold bullion buried. Marty and Shad's roadmap to prosperity seems self-explanatory, except for the fact feds are following Marty since he got out of jail. Everyone wants the gold at the end of the rainbow and take necessary (and unnecessary) steps in order to secure it all for themselves. True to Bob Truluck's unpredictable writing style, The Big Nothing devolves into a chaotic (and oddly literal) gold rush between a growing amount of self-serving assholes. The goal is clear but you just don't know how Marty is going to get there. It's kind of like the Royal Rumble.
The elephant in the room in regard to The Big Nothing is Elmore Leonard. This is a very Elmore Leonard-y novel. Now, this is a comparison that's getting tossed around like a bespectacled kids in every book review but it has legs here. The characters are on both sides of the law, everyone is irredeemably rotten, everyone's kind of adorable anyway, there's a lot of wisercracking banter and it portrays crime as an alternative lifestyle. It's not realistic by any means and it doesn't have any pretension of being so. Now, I'm not really a fan of Elmore Leonard's work. I find his characters and his creative paradigm a little too disconnected for my sensibilities. This was also the case with The Big Nothing. I connected with Flat White's because he was a brokenhearted bastard who witnessed his friend's life's work going up in smoke, but it was tough for me to find common ground with Marty Pell.
There were some really cool concepts in The Big Nothing, though. It's one of these novels where the main character is a hypothetical fortune. The promise of prosperity. It's a very American thing to envision a buried treasure to turn you luck around, but Bob Truluck did his homework there and never makes it clear who the gold bullion morally and righteously belong to. Everyone is trying to appropriate what isn't theirs for personal reasons and while every character acted more or less the same while confronted to their own greed, their actions remained blissfully unpredictable. The Big Nothing kept me paranoid for three hundred pages. Truluck's free-flowing style and writing philosophy turned a rather narrow and conventional genre into something that is entirely his. If you're looking for a novel that's traditional Southern Gothic...huh...this is not exactly it.
The Big Nothing is pretty good, I guess. The shadow of Elmore Leonard stands tall above it and I find this type of noir a little too monolithic for my own sensibilities, but it did keep me interested despite the rigid tropes. And it's really a question of taste at this point. There's no mechanical or ideological problem with The Big Nothing. It might be exactly what floats your boat, so you'll have to try it. I liked Marty Pell a lot. I pictured him looking like Red Letter Media's Rich Evans evil brother. The banter between characters was undoubtedly original and colorful. There are definitely fun aspects to it. I just thought it cam from a somewhat tired place overall. Bob Truluck writing resonates wildly differently with different audiences, though. Whether you decide to read The Big Nothing, Flat White or another novel of his, I would definitely recommend checking out his work. It has a life of its own.