There is nothing new under the sun, every story a take on an already established theme. Sometimes an excuse for the uncreative, this is mostly true. Combining sources and influences in a new way is where true originality comes, often reverse-engineering that which already exists, taking it down to brass tacks. One person who combines old approaches with new ideas is Joko Willink. A man of many surprises Willink, a former commander in the Navy SEALS before going into management consultancy, is also a man of some taste and creativity as his novel Final Spin shows.
Willink’s appeal to traditionalism extends to the very text and layout of the pages, looking very much like it had been written on a typewriter. Not in the American Typewriter font, but actually written on an actual manual typewriter, complete with occasional patches of light ink fade, some letters coming out a little crooked, either way marking out Willink as a man with serious attention to detail. Rather less traditional is Willink’s exact syntax and style, taking a more poetic approach to things, the prose often sliding into what looks literally like a poem, occasionally losing any sense of normality, some sentences written one word at a time in a staggered, vertical line, such as an example on page 9:
An odd approach that still works exceptionally well, especially when it comes to describing characters, making the reader pay attention to each individual detail.
Despite its experimental execution, at times recalling both the Irish father of the weird James Joyce, and the American Anarchist author Kenneth Patchen, in terms of sheer departure from novelistic style, the core of the story is quite old. Even its out-of-nowhere twist, that is nonetheless based in logic once it is explained.
Johnny has a dead-end life somewhere, or nowhere, in Rust-Belt, USA, with not much to live for but the bar and his family, in that order. Johnny’s family is equal parts tragic and weird, his brother, Arty, unusually obsessed with laundry. When the laundromat were Arty works is in danger of closing, Johnny hatches a strange but brilliant plan to solve all their problems, in what looks on the surface like it would be a run-of-the-mill heist gone wrong narrative with some serious diversions from the formula. Not really a surprise at this point, making what would normally the plot for a gritty drama so much stranger, and funnier, than most would expect. The quirky, mid-90’s indie films Palookaville and Bottle Rocket the closest examples I have ever seen.
Far from a villain, despite his plots, Johnny maintains his appeal for most of the story. His situation is already so grim from the start, his stands as an example of what is known as a ‘flat’ character arc, in which a protagonist changes little over the course of a story, usually because they are generally good, and any major change could only be for the worse. Johnny’s plans aren’t squeaky clean but still consistent with his basic personality. A debate, in bed of all places, with his lady friend, Jessica, on pages 75-77, with Johnny arguing for a higher purpose to life, at least more than they had, and Jessica taking more the pragmatic line of just getting by, makes his position clear. His later actions understandable if not always ‘good’ in the strictest sense.
Born in the far north, T.S. McNeil was attending art galleries before he could walk. Earning concurrent degrees in Art History and Political Science, he has written on Arts and Culture both in print and online since 2002, starting while still in college. He lives in a cabin in the woods with his dog, and firmly believes that Marie-Gabrielle Capet was criminally underrated.