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Review of Wire to Wire

May 2, 2011

Wire to Wire (A Tin House New Voice)Wire to Wire by Scott Sparling

Dark Side of the Tracks

Scott Sparling’s debut novel “Wire To Wire” is a dark panoramic view full of fleeting nightmares and bad memories racing across the electrified brain of Michael Slater. That’s because while riding atop a train through Detroit his head meets a power line that almost kills him. The “electricity used Slater’s body as a raceway, entering at his forehead and shooting through his feet, rearranging the molecules as it went.” After having his skull cut open and surgically retooled, his perspective is changed forever.
A few years later, he’s working as a video editor in New York in a cubicle with nothing to keep him company but speed and the visions of his past that insist on unfolding on the screens of his editing suite over and over and over again.
Slater recalls scenes from the desert when he was trying to live a regular life after recovering from his accident. In no time at all, he was sleeping with someone else’s girl and running from a psycho back to Wolverine, Michigan where he falls in again with his fellow train-hopping friend Harp. Harp’s girlfriend, Lane, is too much of a temptation to pass on and that creates a juicy love triangle. Soon Slater gets pulled into Lane’s brother’s nefarious ways and once again he is running for his life.
The story is classic noir fiction full of drug dealers, crooked cops, and glue-huffing losers. Sparling uses the train as a vehicle for moving the plot and the characters through a story that follows Slater and Harp through Northern Michigan’s bleak wasteland. “There was woe spread all over Northern Michigan. They’d seen plenty on the road into town. Abandoned farmhouses in fields of purple wildflowers. Rusting double-wides with big cars in front. A long stretch of fence posts where no fence remained. And the signs. Stump blasting. Worms for sale. I do drywall. People piecing their lives together.”
The characters are pitiful, but some are sympathetic as well – especially Slater who one feels is always on the verge of doing the right thing but never quite manages to pull it off. Stuff just keeps happening to him.
Murders, train-hopping getaways, and speed-addled lowlifes lurking in every shadow keep the story moving swiftly down the tracks. There is seemingly no place to hide. Slater’s girlfriend Lane sums it up best when she says, “You’re looking for a safe place… But there isn’t any. It’s all a tightwire and you never get to come down. You just get used to it… You just move from wire to wire to wire.”
Beautifully written and chilling prose makes this more than just a crime novel. The meticulous detail of the gritty and unrelenting gloom of the Northern Michigan landscape as well as the gripping scenes of riding the rails lend a persuasive feel to this brilliantly crafted thriller.

Tin House, 2011

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