Keith Lee Morris' second book takes place entirely at a championship darts match on a single night in Idaho, in June of 2007. Surprisingly for such a narrowly focused work, it is as compelling a novel as I've read all year. Morris, like Martin Amis in the 1989 novel London Fields, uses darts as a metaphor for striving by an inarticulate male protagonist, but also as a smart plot device to bring together five excruciatingly credible characters in a neatly crafted work bound for critical acclaim.
Russell Harmon, the dart league king, is working a shitty job at a lumber mill and barely holding off a full-blown coke addiction. He has inadvertently sired a child with Kelly Ashton, the town's homecoming queen, but doesn't know it because she can't bear to tell him. Instead, Kelly has gotten involved with local intellectual Tristan Mackey, who may be smarter than both Kelly and Russell, but, it turns out, is also sitting on the corpse of a local undergraduate at his parents' lake house. Vince Thompson is Russell's 42-year-old paranoid drug dealer, bent on killing Russell for non-payment of cocaine debts. And then there's Brice Habersham, a local convenience store owner who somehow has never had sex with his wife in 27 years of marriage.
Morris explores the motivations of each character in depth, telling the story through each of their eyes. After a while, the technique becomes addictive, and you just want to know more and more about each of them, never mind unravel the plot. Perhaps the best writing is done about Habersham, a character nobody notices but who, perversely, has the secret power (I don't want to spoil it for you) to ruin all of their lives. There's a wryly conjured motivation for Habersham, too—a humiliating experience during childhood that was related so acutely, it made me blush.
Morris' focus on the private shames that make us human suggests most of us would be better off facing down our humiliations, rather than obsessing over them to the point where they ultimately shape our lives. But then, that would be boring, and this novel is anything but that. My only regret was that it was over so fast.