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The Breaking of Liam Glass
by Charles Harris
Marble City Publishing, 2017
⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆ ⋆
The verdict: Poignant and biting satire that brings laughter, sadness, and—most importantly—a strong call for change.
Going in, I knew The Breaking of Liam Glass was a satire, but for whatever reason, I expected an over-the-top detective spoof. What I found instead was a tight and suspenseful noir, featuring sharp wit and spot-on social commentary. Harris dives into London’s underbelly without the story ever feeling seedy or unfair, and as a result, he creates a brilliant novel on the press and perception, a tale of “fake news” that’s all too rooted in reality. I can see Harris’s background as a screenwriter in the close third-person narration hopping from character to character without ever breaking the action. Without giving any spoilers, I’ll say that after racing to the finish line I felt more lost than found. Maybe that’s the point. Liam Glass entertains and unsettles, and, as a society, we have to fight against the current.
It’s the spring of 2010 in London. Fourteen-year-old Liam Glass disappears while making a late-night ATM run for his mom, and the authorities soon find him stabbed and barely hanging on to life. Small-time journalist Jason Crowthorne catches a whiff of the story and decides this could finally be his big break. When a major sports agent offers his support, Jason crafts a heartwrenching narrative that will finally earn him professional recognition and his daughter’s approval—never minding whether or not the story has any ounce of truth to it. Yet as rumors circulate and actual facts come to light, Jason discovers the sea’s full of sharks, and he’s not the only one willing to use a fabricated headline to skyrocket his career. In a race against the deadline, Jason’s willingness to risk it all soon shows he has more to lose than he ever thought possible.
Home was a small studio flat in an old conversion; four very basic rooms reached by a fire escape. Jason ran up the steps, slammed the front door shut behind him. Then he pulled out his camera and looked again at the picture of the kid under the oxygen mask. He had a nose for stories, a good one. Maybe it hadn’t been twitching much recently, but he knew what worked and what didn’t.
As a character, Jason’s crafty and desperate, but sometimes his internal deliberations grow a bit tiresome. He’s neither horrible in a way that’s delightful nor hapless in a way that’s endearing. Much of what happens really is his fault, and it took a long while before I was ever on his side. Harris delivers the story over an improbably action-packed 24 hours, unfolding a domino effect of one bad choice after another. Nearly every character is self-seeking in some way or another, but nobody’s all bad. It’s a cast of people doing the wrong things for the right reasons, or maybe the right ones for the wrong reasons, or maybe real life’s as gray and sloppy as London in the rain. The Breaking of Liam Glass holds the tension of our sensational tabloid addiction alongside a bitter apathy toward progress. Recommended for anyone with a passion for current events, or anyone brave enough to hold a mirror to society, if only to find a way to break it.
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