Ellis on Starr
Posted by: Keir Graff
So I’m almost done reading the new Jason Starr novel, The Follower. I liked his last one, Lights Out, but The Follower is testing my patience. Billed as a thriller, it’s not very thrilling. I suppose if I were invested in the characters I might find it suspenseful, but Starr doesn’t really write characters we care about, so it’s just slow. Sometimes I suspect he doesn’t care about his characters, either. It’s one thing to write a dark comedy about dim-bulbs, but if you don’t find a spark of humanity somewhere, it’s a hollow exercise.
The ARC has a prominent blurb from Bret Easton Ellis:
“Jason Starr is the first writer of his generation to convincingly update the modern crime novel by giving it provocative new spins.”
Like Bret Easton Ellis would know. It’s an old blurb, but B.E.E. would probably like The Follower — there are echoes of American Psycho. (In Manhattan, a stalker sets his sights on a shallow twentysomething woman and ends up bumping off her shallow, twentysomething suitors.) And, like B.E.E., Starr seems to feel that brand names can substitute for character traits.
Starr’s prose is fairly slack, and his dialog reminds me of being stuck on a bus next to a college student with a cell phone. Perhaps he’d argue that he’s parodying the way his characters speak — or capturing that of their real-life counterparts — but I can only take so much of:
“It’s still, like, really weird for me when I think about it.”
In Lights Out, the two main characters were childhood rivals — one of them is now a professional baseball player and the other is a housepainter — which was a creative premise with built-in tension. In The Follower, the characters don’t have interesting traits or connections. And where Lights Out was energetic, The Follower is so slow that I’ve had plenty of time to predict what’s going to happen — and I’m usually right.
Still, Starr’s star seems to be in ascendance (ouch), which puzzles me. Bafflingly, the ARC also has generous blurbs from George Pelecanos and Lee Child. I do think there’s an audience for Starr — those same people to whom brand names are an essential part of their vocabulary. But I wouldn’t recommend him to fans of Pelecanos and Child. Starr looks down on his characters, but he doesn’t show us any reason that he deserves to do so. And a better writer would find something to like — no matter how small — about his most pathetic creation.
For a past post on Lights Out, click here.
(That would be a good pen name, wouldn’t it? “Ellison Starr”?)