Recently re-released by New Pulp Press, Lynn Kostoff’s 1991 debut A Choice of Nightmares is equal parts noir-as-fuck crime story and hoidy-toidy literary character study, the type of book the Nerd wants to wave in his old english major “strictly lit” friends’ faces while shrieking at them “this what crime can do, fuckers!” Comparisons to the works of guys like George Pelecanos and Pete Dexter are decent but hardly fucking apt. Lynn Kostoff has his own thing going on, and I’ll be fucked if A Choice of Nightmares isn’t one of the most ambitious and original reads the Nerd has encountered in a good goddamn – no bullshit, dear reader.
Here’s the plot summary bullshit thing: Robert Staples is a hack actor repped by sketchy-ass agent Russell Tills in Miami. Tills has been jerking him around for a while now, unable to get Robert any work except for the shittiest and lowest profile gigs available. After Robert manages to completely botch a simple mall opening, Tills tells him to lay low in Key West for a while but first drop off this sinister-ass package if you would fucking please. Robert, absent-minded ever since he threw away his marriage, manages to lose the package and soon finds himself in debt to some cocaine runners.
There’s a lot of shit about A Choice of Nightmares that makes it stand out from most crime novels. The prose is darkly hilarious and often fairly complex for a genre novel. There are passages in here that fucking punch you in the balls with their dirty lyricism followed by dialogue exchanges that would even give Richard Price a boner. The world that Kostoff creates is so vivid it creates a sort of hyper-reality, if the Nerd can douche-up his descriptions for you some. The plotting is also more relaxed than most genre fans are used to, pages more devoted characters and place than “thrills and chills,” if the Nerd can hackify his prose for you.
And it’s the character work that makes this shit fucking straight-up astound. Robert Staples is one of the best noir characters I’ve ever encountered. Yes, his shaky morality is stretched to the breaking point by his lust for a beautiful woman like all classic noirs, but Kostoff takes pains to make his journey more than that. Robert is a man who pointedly refuses normalcy. He had a steady life with a beautiful wife at one point, but instead of making a go of it with her and having kids, he got snipped without consulting her first, basically telling the missus to go fuck herself. He wants an extraordinary life minus the two-point-five kids and the thirty year mortgage – he wants to be a fucking star. When he eventually realizes that the movie star dream is unlikely he decides that world-class coke distributor is the second best career choice – and that barely scuffs the surface of what Robert is about.
But like I said, there’s more than just high-minded shit going on in Nightmares. Sticking with the whole character work tangent there’s Barry From West Palm, one of the all-time badasses, a guy with no chin, no fashion sense, and nary thread of fucking mercy. Then there’s Denice, a femme fatale who is constantly looking you in the eye and hipping you to her selfish and manipulative angles and you still fall hard for her. Kostoff also loads the story with crazy amounts of sex and drug use, even peppers seemingly every page with some bit of fresh drug cartel lore that certainly impressed the shit out of the Nerd.
In case you haven’t figured it out for yourself yet, I am fucking down with what Kostoff is up to. Late Rain, his latest novel, is coming out toot-fucking-sweet and I’m dying to get my calloused and crooked mitts on that shit something fierce. If it’s even half as original and exciting A Choice of Nightmares it’s damn near guaranteed a spot on the best of 2010.