2011, Seedpod Publishing
|C4 Ratings...out of||10|
Here’s a pretty good set up for a short story: Wicker, a down-on-his-luck hitchhiker trying to get to Vegas, scores a ride from Edna, a senile retired school teacher looking for the Pacific Ocean. There’s plenty of comic potential in the contrast of characters, but more than that there’s an opportunity to explore the strange ways that people use one another, taking turns lending direction and meaning to each other’s lives, helping and being helped, exploiting and being exploited.
Scattershot is what happens when you stretch that premise into a rambling novel by adding an irrelevant subplot about Edna’s unhappy son, Andrew, and refusing to see her senility as little more than a punch line. She bumbles along, always certain that she’s doing just what she means to be doing, never doubting, never angry, never afraid, ready to follow Wicker wherever he thinks they should go. The problem is, once he loses his bankroll in Vegas, Wicker is just as aimless as she is.
After that, all the aptly named Scattershot has to offer is the impulsive leading the senile with the sad tagging along.
Don’t get me wrong: Scattershot doesn’t have much to offer before the story gets to Las Vegas either. Wicker has a few misadventures hitchhiking. Edna goes shopping. Andrew commutes in rush hour traffic. Nothing significant happens. It’s just that until that point, at least one of the main characters has a singular drive that gives the novel a sense of semi-coherence: Wicker needs to win some money to buy his few earthly possessions out of hock, including a wooden box holding his mother’s ashes.
It might almost be enough to make Wicker likable, or at least pitiable, if he ever actually seemed to care about his stuff, not to mention his mother’s remains. Instead, Wicker wins the money he needs, then loses it, then arranges to borrow it from Edna, then finally has a chance to make some money of his own, and (spoiler alert) he still never follows through on the plan to buy back his belongings. It turns out his stuff is just important enough to get him to go to Vegas to do some gambling; after that, he makes a few phone calls and forgets the whole thing.
So Edna doesn’t really care where she goes, and Wicker stops caring halfway through. What about Andrew? He seems intent on finding his mother, but that doesn’t stop him from taking time out from the search to ruin his marriage and cruise the strip in a rented Mustang convertible, sad and angry. He also contacts the police and hires a private detective, though nothing ever happens as a result of either, and Andrew’s too distracted with his marital problems to worry about whether or not the authorities are doing their job.
I might have been less frustrated by this book if I didn’t think there was a good idea buried somewhere beneath all the extraneous plot elements. When Edna first picked up Wicker, I felt a glimmer of hope. I saw how different they were and how desperate, and I thought maybe this could work. I still think it could, but as a 10-20 page short story. Right now, Scattershot is a 260 page collection of characters without motivation and incidents without plot. The closest the novel comes to a saving grace is the writing, which isn’t good but inoffensive; it never impresses but rarely grates the nerves either. Until Goodwin and his editors decide to take a chainsaw to the manuscript, and then run it through a dozen more rewrites, you can definitely pass on this one.
[A review was requested and a review copy provided.]