Book review: Random Acts of Senseless Violence
Sometimes you get struck by a story, it lifts you up out of that featureless buzz ‘of that’s all right’. It stays with you and rides around on your shoulder, whispering to you at unexpected times. Welcome to Jack Womack’s Random Acts of Senseless Violence.
It’s the story of Lola Hart, a preteen, upper middleclass girl who crucially doesn’t discover that she has super powers, or that she’s in love with a vampire, or that she’s the chosen one destined to save the world. She just discovers that her parents are losing their jobs and that the comfortable world she once took for granted is starting to unravel under her feet, while society gallops its way toward economic and social collapse in a mess of petty isms, persecution and repression.
Make no mistake, the title isn’t ironic, this is a book about violence. Not in a graphic, Tarantino-esque, splatter house way, but the violence of the everyday; the causal cruelty of peers, the violence of poverty and an uncaring system. This is a story that recognises that sometimes a telephone conversation can slug as hard as clenched fist and the results aren’t pretty. There’s a relentless and thoroughly believable grimness to Womack’s world. Every day the Harts wake up to find out that, through no fault of their own, they’ve slipped a little further down the cliff. And the harder they struggle the less of a handhold they seem to have – on their lives, their health, on each other.
Which seems a desperate situation when your making the transition into teenage life. Fortunately, Lola’s not one to plunge her head into the sand, but meets this world head on. Forming tentative then rock solid relationships with her new peers, becoming more responsible, more resourceful. Tougher. Ultimately mastering the rhythms of her new life in a way her desperately naïve parents and vulnerable sister can’t. It’s a gradual metamorphosis, but beautifully illustrated in the language of Lola’s diary; a spottily punctuated flow of consciousness which gradually shows more of the Nadsat-style language of the streets she finds herself drawn toward. The irony being that the more Lola finds herself liberated by the freedoms of her new life, the more it seems to imprison her in a downward spiral of depression and violence. Which is the point really. There are no real villains here, just everyday people careening off each other as they struggle to get by.
Which may leave you wondering whether there’s any form of release for Lola, catharsis for us? Well there is. Of a sort. Even one we might see as justified, even hoped for, but like most things we think we want, hollow and ultimately regrettable.
Sweet dreams then.
But seriously, this is a really good book.