by Andrew F. Sullivan
A story like Waste gets me a bit excited and at least a little bit sad, because I find myself tickled pink whenever an author can be as unflinching in their description of some very savage moments as Anakana Schofield or perhaps even Patrick deWitt as Sullivan is here. If an author can continually live up to the expectations cultivated from such strong writing, we are left with something that lingers with us, something that leaves an impression for some time to come, something that we may very well love. However, if our journey to such heights proves fleeting, the fall to the valleys is simply more hard-felt, proving to lessen the work in our eyes, even if it’s not necessarily bad in any significant way.
And Waste doesn’t have any immediate, obvious flaws. Upon finishing, I found myself a bit puzzled, because it had some great scenes that really struck me, but I found myself somehow unimpressed. The story seems mainly to be about how isolation breeds damage and instability, and the fact that I can be a bit wishy-washy with this assessment, that Sullivan is successfully ambiguous with the goals of his work, makes me quite happy. In the backwoods of the fictitious Larkhill, ON, in the late ’80s, Moses and Jamie try to move on with their lives after hitting a lion with Jamie’s car, but things keep spiralling out of control. Moses’ mentally unstable mother goes missing, Jamie uncovers a body behind the butcher shop where he works, and two dangerous men are intent on making them pay for what they did to their boss’ pet.
I think the real issue at hand with Waste has to do with the ups and downs, the peaks and valleys. We start off with a bang, but the author puts the brakes on. He takes time to explore the terrible things the people of Larkhill went through to get them to their desperate and hateful places, exhibiting some careful characterization when he does so, but also making things drag a bit in the process. While this on its own never proves to be a deal breaker, I found parts of the story wholly unsatisfying, including the big confrontation at the end. Nonetheless, when the writing’s at its best, Sullivan hits an uncomfortable, gritty intensity that makes for a fabulous read.
And this is why I struggled so much to really scare out my opinions on Waste. While nothing about Sullivan’s story is truly terrible, significant portions feel lacking. But, when it gets good, it’s really great.