Hump Day Reviews: Shuck

I’ve been neglecting my Hump Day Reviews, thanks to the A to Z Blogging Challenge, so I thought I’d post a quickie that hits the letter S this week. If you haven’t already read Daniel Allen Cox’s Shuck, you definitely should.

shuckIn the pantheon of Great Living Writers in English, few immediately spring to mind. Leonard Cohen tops my list, and some enjoy the ambiguous (or even sudden-drop-off) endings of Margaret Atwood. Most agree that Michael Ondaatje also falls into this category, along with heavyweights like Salman Rushdie, J.M. Coetzee and Paul Auster. Then there are the popular writers, who command respect from a core group of readers, though wouldn’t necessarily be considered “great.” Stephen King, Tom Clancy, Michael Crichton, Jackie Collins, maybe even Douglas Coupland (or does he fall under “great”?) live and work here.

Poised to join one or both of these lists is Daniel Allen Cox, a Montreal writer whose first book, Shuck, has got me all aflutter about sex, love, and aspiring authors in late-90s NYC.

Shuck is the story of Jaeven Marshall, a New York City hustler who aspires to become a published author. He obsessively journals and picks through trash in search of inspiration, living by his wits and his street smarts (at one point he explains how no homeless person should ever have to sleep on the streets, by slipping into the back rooms of large department stores). The character is shrewd, calculating, and utterly captivating. Like a male Holly Golightly, Jaeven manages to twist everyone around his little finger with a wink and a smile – or maybe a smirk and a pout.

Jaeven’s diaries reveal his rise to fame through a series of tableaux, from his humble beginnings as a street rat to gay porn icon Boy New York. Somewhere along the way, we get close to Jaeven, despite the prickly exterior he uses to protect himself from those that might hurt him, whether purposefully or unluckily in love. We are the hungry voyeurs who love and then hate him for his increasing exposure on the covers of dozens of porno mags, and we get to dig through his innermost thoughts, searching for meaning.

The book is a thrilling Coney Island roller-coaster ride through the close of the last century. The glittering menace of New York is portrayed as both seductive and dangerous, by turns, though Jaeven always seems to come out on top. The city’s hardness often reflects Jaeven’s own coldness, and even brutal acts are described with a veneer of pleasure in the pain.

Jaeven is, indeed, a rather ambiguous hero – more anti-hero than the classic protagonist, yet somehow loveable despite his flaws. His dream of becoming a writer via porn is terribly misguided, and yet almost makes sense. He dreams big, perhaps even delusionally so, but it is precisely his big dreams that keep him moving forward, always hustling, always striving for something more.

Shuck is definitely a page-turner, which will surely make it a popular hit. Even more importantly, it nails a particular time and space while making the unbelievable both real and personal. Cox has tremendous talent, and as he propels himself with dreams as big as Jaeven’s, I think it’s safe to say he’s joined the ranks of those destined for greatness.

(Originally reviewed at Black Heart Magazine)