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Posted by: Keir Graff
I started reading a new book for review last night: The Redemption Factory, by Sam Millar. When Bill Ott handed it to me, he said, “Take a look at this one, it’s about a snooker player.”
(Please note that all dialogue in this blog is remembered, not verbatim. If my colleagues saw me carrying a tape recorder they’d stop talking to me altogether.)
As a former senior writer and columnist for Billiards Digest, it’s only natural that books about pool, billiards, and snooker would come my way, whether they’re instructional guides or novels with some connection to cue sports. I’m always eager to find the next Hustler, by Walter Tevis (which started life as a short story in Playboy, by the way) or McGoorty, by Robert Byrne. I liked Hustler Days and Playing Off the Rail pretty well, too.
I’m a third of a way into The Redemption Factory, though, and while there’s been one scene set in a seedy snooker parlor, the game has been tangential. I never read the jacket copy of a book I’m reviewing – I don’t want to be conditioned to think of a book in a particular way, or worse, to have some publicist’s phrase to creep into my review – but this time I scanned it to see where the snooker angle came in.
Right there, in black-on-red, it describes the hero, Paul Goodman, as “a would-be snooker champion working at the local slaughterhouse”. I eagerly await more background on Goodman’s cue-sport aspirations, but in the meantime, I’ll write a few words about what’s actually in the book.
Millar is Irish, and The Redemption Factory appears to be set in Ireland, though the town isn’t named. The language is somewhat ornate – probably a lot of creative-writing classes would call it overwritten. (Example: “An unruly pool of shadows lounged in the room as light splintered in from a cracked window resting on the face of an unhealthy looking young woman – who was about the same age as Paul – occupying one of the chairs, varnishing her fingernails. So skinny, she resembled a stick insect. Her head was enlarged, disproportionately, and drooped burdensomely on her skinny frame, like an over-sized daffodil. Tiny bald spots speckled through her thin, greasy hair, and Pual noticed a scant line of discoloration where hair had recently been removed.”)
I know, I know: eew. But forging ahead, I found myself willing to enter Millar’s world and to speak – well, read – his language. (I try not to judge a book for 50 pages but instead to see what the writer’s up to.) And some of his shorter lines nail it, as they say, “in one”: “She looked the type of woman who asked for trouble out of pure boredom.” And: “Rumor had it she looked like Marilyn Monroe…only ugly.”
So far the non-snooker-related plot has Goodman auditioning for and winning a job at a slaughterhouse, and having interesting encounters with the boss’s two daughters, who work there. The abattoir is fantastic (in the Victorian sense of the word), straight out of Hieronymous Bosch. Indeed, the grotesqueness of many of the characters (an obese, bedridden shopmistress, for example) makes me imagine that Nick Cave is writing a paean to small-town life.
One-third of the way in, I have no idea what Millar is up to, or where his story’s going (the prologue has an IRA-type organization punishing a perceived traitor), but I’m curious enough to keep reading – even if there isn’t any snooker.