Book Talk: 'Good Behavior' by Blake Crouch - Warped Factor - Words in the Key of Geek.

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Book Talk: 'Good Behavior' by Blake Crouch

Alexander Wallace is on his best behavior.
I’ve taken to referring to Blake Crouch as a literary Christopher Nolan; they’re both concerned with time and reality and how we perceive those two things. Crouch has had Dark Matter and Recursion and the Wayward Pines trilogy for his mindbending concepts, and Nolan has had Inception and Tenet and The Prestige. However, Nolan has also had his more grounded films, like the Dark Knight trilogy and Dunkirk. The comparison poses the question: does Crouch have the ability to deliver a compelling story without any supernatural elements?

We shall now turn to his book Good Behavior, a collection of three novellas about reluctant criminal Letty Dobesh. Down on her luck, an occasional addict, in her mid-thirties, with a child being parented by others, Letty constantly finds herself in situations where her morality is pitted against her need to survive. She is introduced in the first novella robbing a hotel room. She sneaks into the closet when she realizes that its occupants are returning, and overhears they are a hitman and a client plotting the murder of the client’s wife.

What is so compelling about Letty is simply how real she feels. We live in a world where, for far too many people, money is scarce and work is hard to find. She doesn’t inhabit some weird Hollywood sanitation of it (I’m reminded of how the Big Bang Theory writers looked in the apartment of real graduate students and found them too depressing to use in the show). It’s a cold, cruel world that Crouch portrays, but one that pulses with real pain and real suffering. For most of these novellas, Letty has no further ambitions than getting a paycheck; when she gets higher motivation, it’s still a realistic goal, not anything lofty.

It is a groundedness that perseveres even in strange places. Over the course of these novellas, you visit a billionaire’s private island and a casino in Las Vegas. For all these glitzy places, you still are following Letty and her perpetual money problems. Class is a major if understated theme to these novellas, as Letty has to either be employed by those with money or steal from those with money. It’s reminiscent of Bong Joon-ho’s film Parasite in a sense in how it interrogates class divides.

These stories are not without humor, but it is a bitter humor. They are the jokes that come when the choice is either to laugh or to cry, but laughing is easier because crying hurts too much. Letty has plenty to cry about, so she laughs to dull the pain. You will laugh with her, but they will all taste sour and with an odor of cigarette smoke.

Good Behavior floored me. It’s a shockingly intimate look at a painfully real character. Letty Dobesh is involved in machinations most of us would never dream of, but she shows that the people in such situations are people are the same. With her, Crouch has shown he doesn’t need time travel to tell a compelling story, and we readers are the ones who benefit.

Alexander Wallace is an alternate historian, reader, and writer who moderates the Alternate History Online group on Facebook and the Alternate Timelines Forum on Proboards. He writes regularly for the Sea Lion Press blog and for NeverWas magazine, and also appears regularly on the Alternate History Show with Ben Kearns. He is a member of several alternate history fora under the name 'SpanishSpy.'

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