We’ve all had that one friend that seems to lead a blessed, stumbled upon existence. They have a beautiful wife, a flawless home, a dream job, and what makes you scratch your head and wonder why is because they seemed to have tripped over it. There’s nothing special about this friend; sure they’re nice enough, but they’re goofballs; the type of person who you would think would have to constantly struggle day-to-day in order to simply exist, and yet, success just seems to come to them.
And you can’t help but envy their perfect, seemingly accidental life more than a little.
Why the hell can’t you have it so easy?
What’s even more shocking is when this seemingly flawless existence crashes and burns in spectacular fashion because your friend’s goofball ways finally step in to screw the pooch; they cheat on their beautiful wife; they mortgage their dream home to the hilt to support their gambling addiction; they embezzle money from their dream jobs.
Or they walk into a convenience store on a Friday night and kidnap the teenage clerk.
This is the scenario presented in Michael Kardos’ powerful debut novel, The Three-Day Affair.
The Three-Day Affair follows three friends and Princeton graduates Will, Jeffery, and Nolan at the beginning of their annual golf game/party weekend. Normally the three (along with a fourth pal, Evan, who is absent through most of the novel.) travel to an exotic locale to shoot golf, drink too much, and reminisce about their college days. But this year, the friends have all agreed to meet near Will’s, who is a former drummer and now full time sound engineer, New Jersey home. Will and Nolan, a young politician making a bid for the U.S. House of Representatives, are driving their third friend, Jeffery, back from the airport, when he complains that he’s having stomach problems and asks Will to pull over at a convenience store so he can pick up some Rolaids.
Jeffery is a computer programmer whose company has taken a hard tumble due to do the recent dot.com bust, plus his wife has also admitted that she’s having an affair and is pregnant. (Yeah, Jeffery’s a real fucking mess.) After a few minutes, he comes rushing out of the convenience store with a teenage girl in tow, and after Jeffery pushes the girl into the car, he yells at Will to drive. Thinking that the girl is hurt, Will tears out of the parking lot and starts heading towards a hospital believing that the girl is hurt. After a couple of miles of panicked driving, Jeffery admits that there’s nothing wrong with the girl and that he’s kidnapped her. Needless to say, both Will and Nolan are shocked, but when Will decides to turn around and return the girl to the convenience store, Nolan stops him. He knows the girl will go to the police, and he knows it will ruin all of their lives. (Despite his admirable qualities, Nolan is first and foremost a politician.)
Will then drives the four of them to the recording studio he works at to figure out what their next step should be. After a long discussion, the three friends decide to bribe the young clerk and offer her $40,000, the equivalent of two years’ salary at her job at the mini-mart. They give her twelve hours to think it over, keeping her locked in a recording booth while the three of them take turns monitoring the local news broadcasts to make sure no one has reported her missing. After the twelve hours are up, the clerk agrees to not go to the police, but she thinks $40,000 is a bit on the cheap side, and instead wants two million.
And things get a little messier from there…
The Three-Day Affair is very much a traditional noir (which is, disappointingly, becoming an ever rarer event in publishing.) in the same cannon as James M. Cain. The characters are everyday people who’ve been placed in out of the ordinary circumstances where long held personal morals are cast aside and the base instinct of self-preservation takes over. The ordinariness of the characters in The Three-Day Affair is its greatest strength as a novel. Yes, Will, Nolan, and Jeffery are Ivy leaguers, but none of them are the children of privilege. They’re humble, middle class, hardworking, and entirely relatable; Will could be your next door neighbor; Jeffery, the guy you share a cubicle with, and because of this familiarity, I found myself hoping that the group would get out of their huge blunder on one page, and then hope they get caught on the next.
Kardos’ conversational first person narration and short chapters keep the narrative tightly wound and fast paced, with each page gradually building suspense as he switches between real time in the studio and back flashes of the three friends time in college, and Kardos manages to lob more than a few unexpected curveballs along the way to the shocking and entirely unexpected conclusion.
Overall, The Three-Day Affair is an impressive debut and one of the best novels I’ve read so far this year, and I’m very much looking forward Kardos has to offer next.