(photo: wikipedia.org)

By Jeff Somers – By the time I finished this 2013 book I felt like I had a very bad hangover and my tongue had been used as an ashtray. Practically nothing seems to hold this group of nine friends together except drinking and smoking, and the quantity of alcohol consumed explains many of the difficulties they encounter.

Written in the stripped-down modern style, the book is unencumbered by information about jobs, personal histories, and life outside the interactions among various pairings of these friends. With alternate chapters told by different members of this seriously dysfunctional group, the book starts with a hilarious wedding scene in which first the bride, then the groom, lock themselves in the venue bathroom, refusing to come out and carry on with the proceedings. Subsequent chapters skip backward and forward in time to before the wedding and some months after. Nevertheless, Somers guides the reader well, and I was never confused about when events took place or who narrated them.

Much of the narrative focuses on two characters—bad boy Tom and good guy Henry—as much of the plot focuses on the trials of the newly married or to-be married couple, Bick and Mary. The book is full of snarky dialog that’s at first amusing, as in this conversation between Tom and Henry on the wedding day. . Henry speaks first:

“How long you give them?” I asked.
Tom sat forward immediately, as if he’d been thinking about the very subject. “Well, let’s be logical. Bick drinks, and Mary doesn’t like it when he does. Mary drinks but doesn’t think she has a problem, when she very obviously does. Mary is jealous and controlling. On the other hand, Bick is snide and weak, while Mare is easily annoyed and shallow.”
“Be fair,” I admonished, “They’re both shallow.”
“Fine. Put all that together, and I don’t give them a day over seventy years. Eighty years, tops.”

Ultimately, though, the constant put-downs are just sad. As I neared the end, I started to wonder whether Tom and Henry are actually two sides of the same person and could think of only one scene where that wouldn’t work. Both were described as present in scenes, just as multiple sides of other characters’ personalities were present, waiting to break out—usually after a couple of cocktails.

While the novel starts strong and with good humor, the excessive alcohol use, which damaged existing relationships and prevented the strengthening of new ones was, in the end, a downer. Back-of-the-book copy calls it “the story of love, liquor, and death.” That would be one actual death and the death of friendship too.

Somers writes a popular series of futuristic violence featuring his character Avery Cates, and Amazon readers who liked this book tended to be fans of that series. I am still puzzling over this reader comment: “Ultimately I felt disappointed that what was revealed was more or less the point of the whole book.”

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