Chris Petit
(Granta Books)

I don't know when it happened, but at some point I lost my flavor for the truly demented. Yesterday I actually said aloud, "Oh great, this is another stupid S&M book." Recently I tried to read Dennis Cooper's My Loose Thread, but when I encountered a character with a burned-off penis I threw the book down and never picked it up again.

Certainly I want a book to take me away from the hard pounding of computer keyboards, ringing of phones, and gurgle of coffeemakers, but I want it to be to a place I'd like to visit; of course, it needn't be a happy place.

This is the appeal of noir fiction. You visit a compelling underground. A place with dim lights, wet streets, guns, drugs, and the trail of a candid loner as he/she traverses them. Perhaps someone you can imagine as yourself. In Chris Petit's novel Robinson, we follow a nameless narrator through his descent into alcoholism, then loneliness and isolation, and finally into the drug-fueled world of making porno films, all made possible by his mentor, the mysterious Robinson.

For some unknown reason, the narrator easily surrenders a comfortable life in the suburbs with his wife and a decent job at a film company to drink himself into oblivion, hang out in bars and porn theaters, and chauffeur around Robinson. Gradually, Robinson begins to infiltrate every aspect of the narrator's life: his job, his friend group, and his family. The two swap women, engage in sex games together, and spend countless hours locked in a tiny room cutting porn film. The narrator tries to hold Robinson together when he cracks up, even though his own mental state is questionable at best.

Robinson is not wholly original--its sly exploration of a character's dual personality is reminiscent of Fight Club, or Joseph Conrad's The Secret Sharer--but the concept isn't one that's entirely played either. The mental descent into the subconscious is fascinating and timeless and lets the reader indulge their own vices; or explore their own id.

Petit, whose weakness is most notably telling instead of showing, nonetheless constructs an entirely dank, unfriendly, and sad world that you just can't stay away from. SHIME