Best of the Web

Ryan Ruby on Chris Power

Amid a great deal of fanfare for Chris Power’s début novel, A Lonely Man, Ryan Ruby has stepped forth with a dissenting view in the New Left Review:

The personal risk of being in the circle of a dead Russian oligarch may have fallen to Patrick, but to tell the story well, Robert implies, requires the literary techniques of a well-reviewed, prize-winning short-story writer such as himself.

Even if this were true, the writing presented in A Lonely Man would not justify such a claim. Although we are led to understand that the flashbacks describing Patrick’s work for Vanyashin are Robert’s handiwork, there is no stylistic, tonal, or vocal distinction with the rest of the novel. The prose is homogenous and — to use Robert’s preferred term — entirely ‘conventional’ throughout. Power’s transitions to the flashbacks are telegraphed with the subtlety of a cinematic dissolve, as though a future screenwriter were their intended audience. The characters are stock (beefy bodyguards, chatty factotum, barely legal model mistress) as are the scenes (a decadent party featuring ketamine, vodka, and mounds of caviar; a boozy brunch at Vanyashin’s country estate). The treatment of post-Soviet history is framed by Western fantasies/anxieties about Russia and is sometimes delivered in expository dialogue that reads like paraphrases of passages from the nonfiction titles listed by Power in the Acknowledgments.