Marten's breakout novel throws its antihero into disaster.

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>5/5

The despicable yet utterly sympathetic protagonist in Eugene Marten’s terrifying third novel doesn’t stray far from those of his prior works: Like the janitor in the cult classic Waste and the locksmith from In the Blind, Jelonnek, the state-employee antihero of Firework, is a shiftless man whose routine is shaken by a series of twisted circumstances and terrible decisions. Marten masters a world of blue-collar minutiae with spare, striking prose and meticulous detail, but Firework is, at 370 pages, a breakout achievement that also tackles issues of gender, class, race, identity and family.

At the outset of the novel, Jelonnek has been arrested during a prostitution sting. His passivity in jail seems to be a smart move—rather than fight with other inmates, he keeps to himself and “trie[s] to convey strong silence.” After his release, he returns to his bank-teller girlfriend and his job as a “forms officer,” a position he has taken “not because he desired advancement or even needed the money, but at someone else’s suggestion.” Jelonnek is not in control of his life, and remains paralyzed by the opinions of others—until, that is, he drinks enough to do something stupid. His behavior lands him in increasingly dangerous situations. After an encounter with a pair of prostitutes suddenly turns violent, he leaves everything behind to cross the country with a hooker named Littlebit and her young daughter, Miss D.

The three form an unlikely bond, but it soon becomes apparent that Jelonnek’s primary motivation is fear—of women, Jews, gay men. Marten, meanwhile, approaches his novel’s slow-building disaster with fearlessness. Equal parts road novel and psychological thriller, Firework is a superbly written exercise in impending doom, which makes sense: Marten seems at home in a world where the worst-case scenario is the most likely outcome.

Marten reads at Park Lit Wed 16 at Jackson Square Park.

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By Eugene Marten (New York Tyrant, $14.95 paperback)