The Last Bad Job, by Colin Dodds

“For certain people and in certain times, self-control is a luxury, not a virtue. And I have never been rich enough to afford it consistently.”

The Last Bad Job is a dark, weird apocalyptic trip with profanity, paranoia, and comedy–a beautiful elemental mix.

The protagonist, who kinda oddly goes nameless for the whole book, is a detached, cynical journalist embedded in a suicide cult at a ranch in New Mexico. He’s hoping to get the scoop on a possible mass suicide and maybe win himself a Pulitzer.

The character is no sympathetic hero–he’s arrogant, manipulative, and a vulture of human tragedy–but he’s fascinating to read because he’s so self-aware of his flaws (and of other’s). Even though he’s prone to lying to other people, he attempts a blunt honesty in telling his story:

“I’d already begun rehearsing the sober, close-cropped sentences and pop culture references I’d use to express my phony anguish and righteous indignation over Dizzy’s Depraved Death Cult.”

Despite daydreaming about winning the Pulitzer, he spends most of his time with the cult making use of their liberal sex culture and waiting for ‘the jackasses’ to die instead of writing. The cult leader, Dizzy, is not fooled of fazed by him, and openly acknowledges his MO:

“You use death to sell newspapers and the newspapers use death to sell cars and shoes and watches. Beneath all your shallow protests about ‘helping people,’ or ‘saving people,’ death is just a currency to buy people’s attention. And so you want to protect the currency, like any businessman would.”

I read many books at once, but found myself constantly drawn back into this one. Colin Dodds has a talent for comic observation and rhetorical timing, and his protagonist’s views and philosophies on life are woven seamlessly into the narrative via internal and external dialogue, giving him a strong and distinctive voice.

Structurally, the novel is chaotic and weird, which might not be for everyone. I loved it’s unpredictability: not knowing where things were going helped me get through some of the sections where the protagonist isn’t really doing much at all except hiding out and waiting when he should be running. Every now and then, the lull is broken with an amazing WTF scene or new mystery to build up on the tension and make you question the narrator’s reliability, even as he tries to convince you he’s not hallucinating.

Most of the suspense comes from wondering what’s really going on and what information is missing, and the narrator’s doubts about his own sense of reality carry you through. The book is also filled with interesting secondary characters and beautifully strange and vivid interactions.

There were a couple of weak points: I almost didn’t get past the first chapter because it felt soft: the opening scene presents a large group of people on a boat, but they remain mostly out of focus, description-wise. Out of the two characters who are described in detail in the first chapter, one was not even present (the cult leader), so squishing his backstory in right at front felt a bit out of place.

Another of the opening characters came across as clichéd: a henchman type who throws a woman around, flexes his muscles, and then gets ruffled when she mocks his manhood. But the events were original and interesting enough to keep me going, and I’m glad I did because the writing just got stronger and stronger after that.

Some threads and coincidences were left hanging by the end, or at least weren’t tied up clearly enough for me to get them, but I definitely enjoyed trying. Besides, the ending was so weird and memorable I can easily forgive this.

I loved this book for many reasons: the detached but paranoid tone, the comedy and strong voice, the unpredictable turns and switchbacks, and the gonzo-style narrative. This is definitely a writer I want to read more from.

“This thing you call reality is just six billion completely insane people fucking each other with differing degrees of consent. And you really want back in?”

 

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