Book Review : Todd Robinson - Rough Trade (2016)
Literature is considered by most people to be a demanding form of entertainment that doesn't offer the total and immediate release of television or cinema. It's also perceived to be intimidating and somewhat pretentious because its most championed creators are like this. It wasn't always like this, though. People used to read to transcend their mundane reality and live vicariously through heroes they could never possibly be. The spirit of that era in storytelling lives today though popular art such as comic books and pro wrestling and through rare authors like Todd Robinson's who's heroes Boo Malone and Junior have been righting the wrongs of society one broken jaw at the time. His new novel Rough Trade ain't too different. It's another wild tip through the legendary Boston nightlife.
Rough Trade picks up shortly after the events of The Hard Bounce (a year or so, I'd say). Boo and Junior are still bouncing at The Cellar and righting wrong with their fists for leisure. They're feuding with another security company, having gang fights during business hours, that sort of life-affirming stuff. When co-worker Ginny asks Boo to rough up her roommate's stalking ex, it seems like he's got his work cut out for him. It's going to be fun and rewarding. Only problem is that Byron (the said ex) turns out dead a couple days later. Boo and Junior cannot explain how it happened and the police are starting to crack down on our two friendly neighborhood bare knuckle vigilantes.
I am very fond of Boo Malone. Mostly because he's so obsessed about proving everyone that he's a good person. Boo's life mission is to protect anyone that doesn't look like him from people who work the same circles or higher and it's just fascinating to me. He's grown big and tough out of necessity and developed some sort of rage superpower that allows him to kick any asses in kicking range (Boo always lets the reader know by saying "the room turned red"). There's a definite comic book influence to Todd Robinson's fiction, and his hero seems to profoundly hate who he is and sacrifices his body whenever the occasion arises. What separates novels like Rough Trade from boring tough guy fantasies is Robinson's uneven grasp on realism. It goes out the window for the story's sake whenever needed. Rough Trade tries to be entertaining more than it tries to convince me that Boo's a tough guy.
"So what are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking that you're an asshole."
"You always think that."
"True, but the feeling is particularly strong tonight."
I thought Rough Trade was slightly better than Boo and Junior's first adventures The Hard Bounce, but only slightly. The first half set a tremendous mood, especially with the first five chapters that only loosely matter in the bigger picture, but that read like a heavy metal re-imagining of West Side Story. This is what I mean when I say Rough Trade isn't afraid to get goofy and throw realism out the window. These chapters are in there just because they're wicked fun and help shape a paradigm where anything is possible. There are more serious moments too, which question Boo and Junior's values and the very nature of vigilantism. Rough Trade gets a little obnoxious at times with two cents life lessons, but it's part of Boo's character to think he can make everybody better, including the reader. If you like a character, sometimes you gotta accept his more unpleasant quirks too.
Truth is, Rough Trade and The Hard Bounce are rather similar novels. If you've enjoyed the first, you're probably going to enjoy the second even more like I did. It's very much a sequel and an evolution (albeit not really a moral one). Todd Robinson writes winding and complicated novels though and you might run out of patience with Rough Trade if you don't already love the characters like I do, so I would definitely recommend starting with The Hard Bounce. I could see Boo and Junior breaking into mainstream culture through cinema or maybe even comic books/graphic novels. They seem a little ill at ease in novels, but the sheer power and charisma of Todd Robinson's first person narration gets more than the job done. There are five weeks left to summer and Rough Trade is a light, action-packed and wildly entertaining novel to take with you on vacation. In fact, take both of Todd Robinson's novels. They're a great time.