Book Review : Eryk Pruitt - What We Reckon (2017)
I can already hear you asking: who the fuck is Eryk Pruitt? Valid question, friend. Valid question. Pruitt is a Texas-born crime writer living in South Carolina. I've reviewed his previous novels Dirtbags and Hashtag on this site already and quite liked them. They were unequivocally smart, yet blunt novels making fun of stupid people doing stupid thing and following stupid fucking fads. Simple, straightforward stuff. But something's changed in Eryk Pruitt along the way. He's understood how good he could be and figured things out. His latest novel What We Reckon elevates him to the enviable rank of best young crime writers working today.
In order words, this shit is thoroughly good.
So, What We Reckon is the story of Jack Jordan and Summer Ashton, who ran away from South Carolina with a stolen brick of cocaine stashed in a hollowed-out King Jame bible. They make it to Texas with the intention of selling their cocaine to college kids, but their coexistence is not that easy. The more fragile Summer is having a difficult time connecting to reality in an environment where everything is so far from the truth. She has difficulty remembering her own name, who she was before their departure and she's starting to hear voices. And that's just the beginning of their problems. Texas has a whole lot of nasty surprised for the two con artists.
What makes What We Reckon a better novel than Dirtbags or Hashtag is the subtleties. Eryk Pruitt's always been great at the blunt stuff: people being spectacularly dumb, flavorful dialogue, building up to tight action scenes, etc. What We Reckon has all that, but it's smarter, more nuanced and better told. For example, Jack and Summer (who's real names aren't Jack and Summer) change identities twice in the novel. And Pruitt leaves their identities behind each time, like Jack and Summer would, crafting a new past for them each time. So, there aren't only plot twists to look out for in What We Reckon (which there are plenty of), but cast changes, new identities and new directions. That makes the novel 100% unpredictable, like a drunken dune buggy ride in a mine field.
The main theme in What We Reckon is truth and it is explored in many different ways. Religious truth is taken to the doghouse by Eryk Pruitt in what are perhaps the most hilarious passages he's ever written, but he also portrays a conflict between truth and memory as Jack chooses to remember events whenever he sees fit (and chooses how to remember them) and explores the fluidity of identity. The basic point Eryk Pruitt makes in an oddly life-affirming way in What We Reckon is that nothing is sacred. Nothing is set in stone. You can be whoever you want to be and live the life you want to live if you believe it hard enough. It's super cynical and positive at the same time and that dichotomy is what makes What We Reckon such a unique and fascinating novel.
What We Reckon is a terrific crime novel and a breath of fresh air in a genre often bogged down by its own self-seriousness. It took me for one hell of a ride: whenever I though Eryk Pruitt was stretching it thin, he turned his storyline on a dime and went in a whole other direction. This is what great storytellers do. Eryk Pruitt really upped the ante here with a story that has both a highly cerebral and a visceral appeal. Don't be surprised if you see What We Reckon pop in my year end's lists next month. I can't QUITE call it the best book I've read this year, but it's up there with Joe Clifford's Give Up the Dead and Matthew Revert's Human Trees.
A fantastic read for people who, like me, are bored with self-important crime novels.