As a writer, I can tell you that beginnings are extremely important. You want to grab the reader’s attention right away. But this is not to say that you merely wish to shock them. Shock is good, but it also has to have a lure behind it that pulls the reader deeper inward.
The beginning of a book can make a reader decide whether or not they’ll bother going forward or even buy the damned thing. So it is crucial for a writer to perfect the art of opening with a bang… or, with a fuck.
Max Booth III’s new novel, The Mind is a Razorblade, opens with everyone’s favorite curse word, but knowing shock isn’t enough Booth sinks in his meat hook and reels us in right away. Our protagonist is not only cursing, he is drowning, and he’s also swimming with a dead man.
This is what I mean by a luring beginning.
Meet Bob. He’d certainly like to meet himself. He can’t seem to remember anything, except how to fire a gun. He’s naked and half-dead and that’s just the start of his problems. He is lost in a city of raving derelicts, criminal kingpins and spider-burping, marauding ghouls. He’s searching for his identity but has nowhere to turn except for a burlesque house he found on the back of a soggy matchbox.
Bob’s amnesiac adventure begins in dank pits and dive bars that swarm with lowlifes who slowly help him to put the pieces back together, albeit vaguely and even hesitantly, as if they enjoy torturing the poor guy. But maybe they have good reason to. Seems Bob has been mighty naughty, given the organs he’s been transporting around town.
But Bob doesn’t want any part of that now. He just wants to find the redhead in his frazzled memories who makes his heart stop hurting, and he hopes that when he finds her everything will be all right again.
Not quite, Bob, not quite.
Razorblade moves forward in a steady pace, never losing steam or letting go of the curiosity that haunts both the protagonist and the reader. It’s world is a bizarre bastardization of our own – a drug-fueled fever dream that pulsates with violence and depravity. Booth has a colorful style and he knows how to keep us glued, teasing us with the end of each chapter so we can’t resist diving into the next. The book is reminiscent of the paranoid cat-and-mouse stories of Philip K. Dick (We Can Remember it for You Wholesale comes to mind) and the surreal, junky playgrounds of William S. Burroughs’s Interzone. At times it even reads with the fast, frantic pace of a graphic novel, Booth painting elaborate pictures, making it all feel very cinematic (head’s up, David Lynch).
Still, despite its bloodshed and palpable horrors, Razorblade also has a tender side that celebrates the love between a man and woman, as well as the unbreakable bond between parent and child. The book is not overly dark or nihilistic the way the title might make some assume. Bob, for all his faults (which are plentiful), is a man we can all relate to. We just have to ride the nightmare with him and wait to see if he’s limping towards redemption or ruin. Either way, it’s a free fall worth braving.