Flesh on the bone

Is this a Nineties Catcher in the Rye?

Rule of the Bone

by Russell Banks

Secker, pounds 9.99

Any novel that sports a plug from Elmore Leonard, virtuoso purveyor of thrillingly camp and scything American criminology, must be worth a look. is a tale from the so-called underclass, narrated by a 14-year-old boy. Chappie leaves home for a picaresque life of crime: he shacks up with various of American's disadvantaged, gets a tattoo - a skull and crossbones, sans skull - and assumes the appropriate name, Bone. Banks, it seems, is trying to go deeper than the highly wrought surfaces of Leonard. But the suspicion looms that he is just digging himself a bigger hole.

Here is the first sentence. "You'll probably think I'm making a lot of this up just to make me sound better than I really am or even luckier but I'm not." It hints at both the virtues and the vices of Banks's 400- page ventriloquism. On the one hand, the refreshing scarcity of punctuation gets across the racing, uninflected speech of a channel-surfing teenager. Bone's pronouncements are frequently both funny and poignant, and his artificially untutored prose can click home with poetic finesse: he says of his cat "it was like there was the concentration of a person inside his furry head".

The downside adumbrated by that first sentence turns out to be that wants to be the next Catcher in the Rye (the blurb perilously trumpets as much). But where Holden Caulfield at least had the manners to be chronically confused, Bone grants us the debatable privilege of sharing in his moral epiphanies. These climax in a somewhat creative distinction between crime and sin. Bone's rule is that the former is not worth worrying about, because the victims are rich anyway, but the latter is a far heavier deal.

The recompense for this internal banality, however, is a generous splash of external colour. Most of Bank's low lifes wittily avoid being knee- jerk caricatures. Bruce, the violent iron-punishing biker, find a touching redemption in death; I-Man, the Rastafarian has considerably more substance than the ganja smoke in which we first see him wreathed. Most terrifying is Buster, a philistine Humbert Humbert for the video age; Bone's attempt to rescue his small Lolita cannot help but make us warm to our narrator.

Naturally, Banks has big themes in mind. Somewhere in the bloated chronicle of Bone's peregrinations is a provocative dissection of racial mores in America, which occasionally surfaces in some beautifully ironic observations: "In my experience with white people when it comes to dealing with kids and blacks it's the really old and feeble ones who're more trusting than the healthy middle aged and younger people, probably due to the elderlies not having very long to live". A lovely comic pause: Banks is parsimonious with commas, but when he hauls one out he knows what to do with it. And there is qualified optimism in the characterisation of Bone, a boy who has been sexually abused yet refuses to parade his victimhood. But the novel's saccharine, upbeat ending looks like an abrogation of responsibility by the author: in retrospect, the nihilism becomes no more than a fey diversion.

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Call The Midwife: Miranda Hart as Chummy

tv Review: Miranda Hart and co deliver the festive goods

Arts and Entertainment
The cast of Downton Abbey in the 2014 Christmas special

tvReview: Older generation get hot under the collar this Christmas

Arts and Entertainment
Dapper Laughs found success through the video app Vine

comedy Erm...he seems to be back

Arts and Entertainment
Wolf (Nathan McMullen), Ian (Dan Starky), The Doctor (Peter Capaldi), Clara (Jenna Coleman), Santa Claus (Nick Frost) in the Doctor Who Christmas Special (BBC/Photographer: David Venni)

tvReview: No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Arts and Entertainment
Bruce Forsyth and Tess Daly flanking 'Strictly' winners Flavia Cacace and Louis Smith

tv Gymnast Louis Smith triumphed in the Christmas special

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Rhys says: 'I'm not playing it for laughs, but I have learnt that if you fall over on stage, people can enjoy that as much as an amazing guitar solo'
musicGruff Rhys on his rock odyssey, and the trouble with independence
Arts and Entertainment
Krysia and Daniel (Hand out press photograph provided by Sally Richardson)
How do today's composers answer the challenge of the classical giant?
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
News
Shenaz Treasurywala
film
News
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Watkins as Christopher Jefferies
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars Director JJ Abrams: key character's names have been revealed
film
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell Williams won two BBC Music Awards for Best Song and International Artist
music
Arts and Entertainment
Mark, Katie and Sanjay in The Apprentice boardroom
TV
Arts and Entertainment

Film The critics but sneer but these unfashionable festive films are our favourites

Arts and Entertainment
Frances O'Connor and James Nesbitt in 'The Missing'

TV We're so close to knowing what happened to Oliver Hughes, but a last-minute bluff crushes expectations

Arts and Entertainment
Joey Essex will be hitting the slopes for series two of The Jump

TV

Who is taking the plunge?
Arts and Entertainment
Katy Perry as an Ancient Egyptian princess in her latest music video for 'Dark Horse'

music
Arts and Entertainment
Dame Judi Dench, as M in Skyfall

film
Arts and Entertainment
Morrissey, 1988

TV
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that? The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year

    Aren’t you glad you didn’t say that?

    The worst wince-and-look-away quotes of the year
    Hollande's vanity project is on a high-speed track to the middle of nowhere

    Vanity project on a high-speed track to nowhere

    France’s TGV network has become mired in controversy
    Sports Quiz of the Year

    Sports Quiz of the Year

    So, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry, his love of 'Bargain Hunt', and life as a llama farmer

    Alexander Armstrong on insulting Mary Berry and his love of 'Bargain Hunt'

    From Armstrong and Miller to Pointless
    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on after Giroud's moment of madness

    Sanchez helps Gunners hold on

    Olivier Giroud's moment of madness nearly costs them
    A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

    Christmas without hope

    Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
    After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

    The 'Black Museum'

    After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

    Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
    Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

    Chilly Christmas

    Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
    Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
    Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

    'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

    Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
    Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

    Ed Balls interview

    'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
    He's behind you, dude!

    US stars in UK panto

    From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

    Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

    What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

    Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect