Review: Private Midnight, by Kris Saknussemm

by Rebeca on May 28, 2009

private-midnight1Private Midnight
By Kris Saknussemm
The Overlook Press
333 pages
$25.95

In his second novel, Private Midnight, dubbed as a psychoerotic noir fairy tale, author Kris Saknussemm paints a perverse picture of an already spiritually raw man and the mysterious woman who strips away his deep layers of secrets and guilt

The story centers on homicide detective Birch Ritter, jaded by two bad marriages and his job. One morning, Jack McInnes, Ritter’s former partner, strolls into the precinct, drops a business card on his desk, and leaves without saying a word. Ritter pockets the card and seemingly forgets about it. While he’s investigating a possible suicide, he remembers the card, examines the ornate (and seemingly changing print) and decides to stop by the address. There, he is greeted by Genevieve-a redhead who knows quite a bit of Ritter’s past. She is alluring, intoxicating, and Ritter is dangerously drawn to her.

As the story progresses, Ritter becomes both obsessed and repelled by Genevieve, who-like her business card-physically changes at each encounter. During these on-demand meetings, she introduces Ritter to series of psycho-erotic acts and mind games that shred away at his psyche, and ultimately change his life forever.

Private Midnight is a mixture of various genres-detective noir, horror, and eroticism-and in each scene, Saknussemm has mastered the art of “show, don’t tell” in which he has beautifully painted a tableau of visual details rather than have typed away at a keyboard. However, in spite of all the well-written imagery, the overall story leaves the reader ambivalent to the outcome.

Saknussemm’s intent might have been stir the pot of morality and values-especially with Ritter’s baffling encounters with Genevieve–but by the novel’s end, Ritter’s metamorphosis comes across as an unsurprising cliché.

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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Randall Radic May 28, 2009 at 12:26 pm

Excellent review — straight to the heart of the matter: the reader doesn’t care. Which is the kiss of death for a novelist.

Mary May 28, 2009 at 12:29 pm

That must have been disappointing to be “ambivalent to the outcome”. It sounded like it had potential to be more than a titillating novel.

Rebeca May 28, 2009 at 12:45 pm

Mary,

It wasn’t even titillating. I spent a few weeks trying to figure how I felt about the book and I was so uninspired to write a review. In other cases, I take a while to ponder the book and really analyze it (like I’m doing with Lush Life). With Private Midnight, I just kept procrastinating because I felt so blah about it.

Randy,

Thanks. After all my procrastination, I thought I would cut to the chase.

R.

Sam August 26, 2010 at 9:08 pm

I like the review, though I definitely disagree with the verdict, as the book kind of hit all my favorite buttons in quick succession (mindbending, trippy, film-noir, identity resolution), though I didn’t like the dissonance between the time periods.

In total, I think Saknussemm is the kind of person who writes in a “kitchen sink” style…he puts together a book by absorbing as much information as possible and then tries to work it into an interesting plot. His book Zanesville worked much the same way, only instead of mythology and eroticism, it had more to do with Americana and theme parks and the like. You might like that one better.

Another person who does the “decadent and noir” thing and might be easier to digest is Warren Ellis in his book Crooked Little Vein…though most of it is played for laughs and he tends to revel in shocking jokes and dystopian plotlines (the government is almost always evil).

Still, just sort of wanted to put my thoughts in. I’m glad you didn’t discount it as a waste of time and terrible on pure indecency and salaciousness alone, as I’m sure others have.

Sam

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