I’d describe Adam Dunn’s novel, Rivers of Gold, as Kaleidoscope-Noir.
Yes, I made that term up. But see if you agree.
New York City. 2013. Taxicab drug deals. Unemployment. Race riots. Female characters with initial-names, like ‘N.’ Section headings like ‘Teabagging Charybdis.’ Gangsta rap stars, such as MC Cancer. The Citywide Anticrime Bureau (CAB). The Speaks. Tom-Wolf-ish-onomatopoeia-lines like ‘Mah-na mah-na (do do do-do…)’
Quite the tour de force.
These are just a random sampling from the novel, and yet, by their very nature, the reader can almost sense how high the author is aiming his intentions. Other reviews have likened this first effort to McInerney’s Bright Lights, Big City, and Bret Easton Ellis’s Less than Zero. As if in homage, Dunn even opens the novel in a kind of temporary ‘we’ point of view.
And let’s be honest. You have to be a fairly sophisticated reader to let an author stretch you in so many directions. Mixed within this kaleidoscope of creativity are numerous characters. One thing’s for sure. I don’t think Dunn could create a two-dimensional character if his life depended on it. And, it’s extremely rare that a reader picks up a novel that can make that claim.
Obviously, Dunn knows this world. After reading Rivers of Gold, you’ll feel like you’ve been given a special tour of New York City, as it is, and, as it might be. To locate us firmly in the year 2013, Dunn does extrapolate, but the extrapolation seems realistic and believable. The author currently lives in New York City, and pages of author acknowledgements attest to the thorough research of his subjects at every level. He’s even got recommendations from authors like Jeffrey Deaver, who calls Rivers of Gold ‘brilliant.’
The plot of the novel turns around two main characters: Detective Sixto Santiago and Renolds Taylor (Renny). Both these characters sparkle with specifics traits, both good and bad. Fashion photographer turned street-tough Renny has a soft interior for his mother–who’s ‘in her personal twilight zone’–and his murdered friend Eyad. Santiago has a New-York-soft-spot for his family and his elderly Jewish friend, Hiram. The murder of Renny’s friend, Eyad, turns Santiago toward the possibility that a gigantic network of criminal activity is taking place in New York City cabs, bringing him closer to Renny, and Renny’s drug-boss, Reza. As this newest venue for corruption comes closer to being discovered, a thread of murders bring Santiago and Renny in closer contact, until an even larger boss, the Slav, is revealed within the hierarchy of crime.
One of the exciting features of this novel is its abundance of quotable phrases—again, a rare thing in modern novels. People have even caught on to this and referenced some of their favorites on a website. Not bad for a first novel. Try a few of these on for size:
The motor gargles to life
…the vinegary stink of medically slowed putrefaction. Age.
Afternoons are for acceleration.
…specimen of XY-chromosomal overload.
Laughter is the fulcrum on which the lever of seduction turns.
Can softness have a taste? Her lips are cumulus clouds wrapped in rose petals, but her jaw is firm, her tongue well-toned and animate.
Another feature I particularly enjoyed was Dunn’s creativity. The style is deceivingly conversational, complete with f-word reality and sexual bluntness. It’s as if the cliques of modern communication have been recognized, but then tinkered with, in a wonderfully metaphorical way. This type of creativity is available only in near-future or sci-fi novels, at its best, under the direction of skilled authors like William Gibson. It seems to give a brave, risk-taking author possibilities that are based on realism, yet allow him to add something imaginative to the mix. For example, imagine the boring first-draft of a line in a novel to be this: “Things were really chaotic. Law and order just couldn’t keep up.” Now, imagine that line rewritten, in a creative way, to become this: “The cheerleaders of chaos and entropy were thriving and diversifying, while the home team of law and order was in the ICU.” I think even the most insensitive reader would appreciate the creative extra-effort of a line like that. And this extra effort occurs regularly in Rivers of Gold.
As with any new endeavor, though, a creator leans toward balance or extremes. With a novel like Rivers of Gold, the positive of so many creative things going on, practically at the same time, in a kaleidoscopic frenzy, generates reader interest–for those who can keep up, anyway. For example, you’d have to know what ‘teabagging’ and ‘Charybdis’ are to get past the first section title alone. Therefore, by default, Dunn’s creative techniques limit the size of his audience, but the enthusiasm for his work by more sophisticated readers will more than likely compensate.
Each character in the novel, from the least to the greatest, is extensively fleshed out. This trait pulls most readers further into a novel, especially when the characters are as unique as Dunn’s. But ‘unique’ loses a little of its effectiveness when the specific details are brought in by the truck load, especially in a novel which is striving to show us so many unique illustrations of creative activity in motion at the same sitting, and Dunn occasionally errs in this way. For me, though, even these seeming negatives had their strengths; they simply reflected the choice of a modern author, struggling to finalize a unique vision. And, you would have to assume that Dunn made these choices intentionally, to qualify his audience and to showcase his abilities.
For a first novel, I would have to agree with Jeffrey Deaver.
And, I would also add, uniquely kaleidoscopic.