In most cases, if I see the words ‘serial killer’ in the synopsis, my interest in the book dissipates. For me, the serial killer crime novel is a tired genre with writers using it as an excuse to write gruesome scenes with deranged characters. However, if I’ve read another book by the author and been impressed by him or her, I’ll give their serial killer novel a chance.
I’d heard of Dirtbags by Eryk Pruitt when the book first came out, but upon seeing ‘serial killer’ in the synopsis I passed on reading the book and forgot all about it. Recently, I read Pruitt’s second novel, Hashtag, which I enjoyed a great deal (Review here) and wanted to read more of his work. A quick search brought me back to Dirtbags and I decided to give it a chance.
Sometimes, a bias can keep you from a really good book and Dirtbags is one such example. Although one character’s quest to become an infamous serial killer is at the heart of the story, the overarching theme is the desire to be known.
In both of Pruitt’s novels, he employs an intriguing writing device. He writes from the viewpoint of three different characters, but rather than telling a linear story jumping back and forth from each character, he takes a different approach. His two novels are divided into three sections. Each section is told from the viewpoint of one character. When he switches to the next section and thus the next character, he takes a step backward in the story, provides a bit of backstory, and then progresses the story forward. When he moves from section two to section three, he does the same thing again. The story moves forward with each character taking their portion of the story to a certain point. The device works well.
Dirtbags revolves around the three characters: Calvin Cantrell, a born loser who believes the only way he’ll ever be recognized in the world is by becoming a serial killer; Tom London, a restaurant owner who hires Cantrell to kill his ex-wife which causes him multiple problems; and Rhonda Cantrell, the wife of Calvin and the lover of Tom, who uses her body to get what she wants. Pruitt uses these three characters to tell the story of three hard luck losers stuck in a small town, desperate to break free from the constraints of the small town, and eager to find recognition in the eyes of others. I’m eager to read more of Pruitt’s work.