Storming, visceral, violent, funny, sad and extremely readable: with sprinkles or monkey blood.
I have read most of Myers’ novels now, but in the reverse order from publication: this being one of his earlier, was therefore my last, so far. There’s no design to this. Just an inability to spot a talented writer until long after many others have shouted themselves hoarse about him.
John-John is more or less 20 years old – he doesn’t actually know, as no one has ever told him his birth date – and just out from doing 5 years in prison. He has a dingy flat in an uninspiring estate, provided for him, from which he can see and hear a dual carriageway. In the way of a good turn deserving another, a guy he saved from a beating in prison arranged for John-John to get a job with his dad on the outside: what he didn’t tell him was that his dad runs ice-cream vans that didn’t just sell ice-creams.
John-John is from a travelling background, his dad being the (in)famous bare knuckle fighter, all round man-mountain and ‘King of the Gypsies’, Mac Wisdom. Mac’s life is violence, drinking and graft, and as John-John is not a particularly big, robust boy, he never gets a kind word from his father. The story of Mac is told by his young wife and alternates with the ‘here and now’ story of John-John following his release.
Part of John-John’s route – which he cannot deviate from under pain of death – takes him through a rough estate called The Nook. Teenage kids sit on walls, smoking weed, drinking, generally being obnoxious. There’s (‘really shite house’) music blaring from the house they hang out in. Younger girls are abused in exchange for drugs / drink. And the bigger boys are not slow to get into fights and gang up on outsiders…especially if the outsider is a traveller, who won’t sell them the gear they expect to be able to buy from the ice cream van. John-John won’t run the deals because he is on probation and doesn’t want to go back inside. Then Maria turns up at the van. Maria lives on The Nook and is going with one of the lead members of the teenage gang…
Myers is convincingly inside John-John’s head, as he worries and tries to avoid trouble; as he falls head over heels for Maria; and as he grieves what is done to his puppy – and that needs a health warning, it is a difficult scene. Myers also writes pretty good dialogue – its all set around the Durham / NE area where Myers originated – that clips along realistically.
It’s a cracking story. There’s probably already a film being made of it after the fashion of Andrea Arnold’s superb Fish Tank. If there isn’t, there should be.