So, following Matt Ingwalson’s writing of the first ever guest post here on The Invisible Event, I’m now duty-bound to recommend his third Owl and Raccoon story, right? I mean, sheesh, it’d be awkward if I lay into this. Let’s get that out of the way, then: is this good? No, it’s not good. It’s wonderful.
At a guess I’d say this novella about 15,000 words long, and what I particularly love about Ingwalson’s writing is how inside of those words he finds so much space for pathos, and fear, and hope, and redemption, and love, and all the other quiet things that gnaw away at us, and it makes these achingly human stories motivated by these beautifully universal themes. But — crucially — he does it without ever smacking you over the head about how Human and Universal his themes are, and throws in an excellent update of the impossible crime while doing so, keeping everything moving at a brilliant pace and slowly binding these threads tighter to each other on the way to the solution. Ingwalson is not a full-time writer, but crikey couldn’t a lot of people earning their living from writing today learn a helluva lot from him.
Cody Jacobi “ex-Marine, part-time machinist, and full-time deadbeat” kidnaps his estranged teenage son, Todd Gonzales, hijacks a public bus, drives it into the middle of a busy intersection and, with SWAT and police on the scene, somehow manages a disappearing act that you’re really better off discovering for yourselves. Cue Owl and Raccoon, Ingwalson’s Missing Persons detectives, and a manhunt that will take in a lot of other factors before its resolution.
It is a deliberately, almost obstinately, lo-fi undertaking — starting with a bang and then building a series of quiet moments where the accrued beats along the way take on more significance as they are collated. No heroics, no grandstanding, no ranting or raving…just a superbly measured build from the beginning on. Take for instance the following, where Cody has just learned of his son’s existence after a one-night stand…
Cody had squatted down on the threadbare carpet and said hi to his son for the very first time. And then, not knowing what to do, he’d waved goodbye to his ex and driven away.
His visits got more frequent as Todd aged. Slightly. But an hour every few weeks wasn’t enough to convince Maria that Cody had any serious desire to make up for lost time. And a single mom raising a boy on a hairdresser’s salary has got no reason to be tolerant of a grown man’s commitment issues.
…or the introduction of Sergeant Major Allie Samuels, known to everyone as Dust, who
had a face like Stonehenge and hair as gray and spiny as a burned-out pine forest.
There’s a directness, a lack of pretence, in his prose that nails everything perfectly for my taste. The fact it has as its lynchpin two characters as finely realised as Owl and Raccoon is naturally a huge part of this success. The very first chapter here gives us an outline of these two men and their relationship that permeates everything they do together. And there’s a chapter about halfway through where Raccoon picks up Owl at his house on the way to work one morning — nothing of any narrative value happens, there’s nothing I’m excluding here to make my point, I promise — that might just be the most heartbreaking half-page of writing I’ve read this year.
And the impossibility? I really liked it, it brings together a lot more than you’re necessarily expecting given how loose and free the plotting appears, and it’s well-motivated, well-executed, and clearly explained. Yeah, there’s one niggle you could raise, but given how perfectly it fits what you already know and how near-seamlessly it works in the various relevant threads introduced to that point, I’m going to give it a pass. Hell, I’ve read books ten times this long and a fifth as well written that have less-satisfying answers to far simpler puzzles and characters given much more space I cared far less about. Taken on those terms, it seems churlish to complain too much.
In short, not only is this excellent on just about every single front, it’s also a bargain and part of a sequence of stories I hope to see continued for their wonderful character work and canny use of impossibilities. Novels, novellas, and sort stories and each judged by different standards, of course, but if you still wish me to reduce my sentiments on this to pictogram form then you’ve probably not been paying attention. Nevetheless:
One thought on “#123: Not With a Bang by Matt Ingwalson”
I’ve got the first two Owl and Raccoon instalments sitting on my electronic/ metaphorical TBR pile in my Kindle. Which is always deceptively high a pile since I cannot actually see it! Thanks for the tantalising recommendation of Matt and ‘Not with a Bang’. 😀
*scurries off to get the third instalment*