Book Review : Mike McCrary - Genuinely Dangerous (2016)
Mike McCrary writes big, dumb and funny action novels that would fit way better on a theater screen. Only problem is that they're not nearly as big and dumb as they pretend to be, so they also require the context only a novel's sheer size can offer. He's basically writing smart novels for an audience who no longer reads. Because he would be featuring drunk and belligerent on the Conan O'Brien Show if they did. McCrary's first two books Getting Ugly and Remo Went Rogue are almost screenplay-sized, making the transition a natural. His latest Genuinely Dangerous is a proper 300-pager, so how different is it from his short, action-packed and batshit crazy earlier novels?
Not that different, really. It's just...kind of smarter? I know, Mike McCrary and smart literature are two things that may not necessarily go together in your mind. Bear with me.
Genuinely Dangerous is the story of Jasper Tripp, a disgraced film director looking for his way back to Hollywood after releasing a disastrous art film. Jasper is particularly upset because his childhood friend Wilson Gains has become plenty successful with a war documentary he didn't even shoot himself and announced to the media he plans to shoot another documentary on Jasper's fall from grace. But our protagonist has plans of his own: he will embed himself in a crew of bank robbers and shoot the most vivid and dangerous documentary ever made. It's a great idea on paper, except that dealing with volatile criminals who have no interest whatsoever in being filmed is a little bit like dealing with the devil. Even if you win, you're going to surrender more than you bargained for.
So, the driving theme of Genuinely Dangerous is success. Jasper Tripp is obsessed with becoming a successful filmmaker like W. Gains. * Jasper never lived up to his own standards for success, yet recklessly endangers himself because he feels entitled to it. If the guy he grew up with became successful by conning everybody, why can't he pull it off if he actually DOES the risky work himself? But how do you define success? Jasper had two movies produced, one that made its money back, he's very successful by Hollywood standards, which he admits himself at the beginning of the novel. So, what is Jasper after, really? His own definition of success isn't quite clear: does he want to get revenge on W. Gains? Is his idea of success being more popular than Gains? Is it important to him to the point of endangering his life? Sure, Mike McCrary's novels are full of people overreacting and doing crazy shit, but it never felt so intimate.
While I loved Jasper Tripp and identified with his existential struggle in a weird way, I thought the gangster crew were roughly drawn psychopaths, which slightly undermined my appreciation of Genuinely Dangerous. Once again, batshit crazy people are a common fixture in Mike McCrary's fiction but these guys are just too crazy and constantly drag the novel in different directions. McCrary kept it close to the vest and narrated the novel from Jasper's first person perspective, which was undoubtedly smart, but he surrenders himself to the bank robbing crew in order to get his project off the ground, and that's a problem because for 100 pages or so, they seem like they have no idea what to do with him. It's also interesting because for a moment Genuinely Dangerous transforms into a hostage novel where the hostage forced himself upon his captors, which is insanely original, but the novel has difficulty committing to one idea.
Chalk Genuinely Dangerous as another artistic success for Mike McCrary. I usually don't support the work of self-published authors because there is usually more than one reason why they weren't published, but McCrary is an exception that confirms the rule. He's a talented authors who has his "own thing" and constantly pushes the boundaries of what he's capable of. It's difficult to ask for anything more as an audience. Genuinely Dangerous is, like every McCrary novels, a lot of fun, and while it's not perfect of transcendent, it has that extra layer of meaning that makes it a more fulfilling read than his previous work. Give it a shot if you're looking to distance yourself from all these self-serious reads out there.
* Notice the subtle irony in the said filmmaker name here.