Kill Me Now
by TIMMY REED
reviewed by NATHAN LESLIE
Counterpoint Press, 2018
At one point in the latter portions of Timmy Reed’s mock-journal novel Kill Me Now, Miles Lover, the protagonist who usually goes by the nickname “Retard,” writes the following passage: “At crabs tonight at my cousin’s and the Old Bay and the vinegar kept getting into the cuts where my cuticles should be—my fingertips look all haggard on account of biting my nails. Even as I write this it stings. But the stinging feels good. Like summertime. Like freedom and long afternoons….I smell vaguely like a fish….Life is swell.” This passage exemplifies what I admire about Reed’s latest work, especially the funny/painful little observations and the raggedy manner in which Kill Me Now captures the mind and personality of the fourteen-year-old who propels this novel.
As the above excerpt might also indicate, Timmy Reed excels at characterization. Miles is an interesting protagonist because he is perceptive and self-aware, but he is also lacking the context to understand that much of his angst is generated as a result of his dysfunctional family situation (his parents are divorced and they bounce Miles from one house to the other). Throughout the novel Reed captures Lover’s sense of empathy (for instance, regarding his mother’s efforts cleaning around the house: “I don’t like watching [my mom] on her hands and knees”) but also the side of his character that tortures crayfish, drops fish heads in open car windows, steals a five-spot and obsesses over his stinky butt. So, pretty much a typical fourteen-year-old boy.
Reed also effectively captures the way a fourteen-year-old boy would sound, especially in an ad-hoc journal. Miles Lover is full of pomposity and grandeur on the one hand and revolting bodily-obsessed insights on the other hand. Yet Lover also can be pensive and reflective in a touching manner. This is much more difficult than it might appear—try writing a sentence through the perspective of a fourteen-year-old without sounding like a Salinger rip-off or like an adult trying to sound like a fourteen-year-old. Here the voice rings true. Additionally, the journal conceit works for this novel in that it plays to the strengths of the author and also fits the episodic plot structure. Form meets function. In a few places a word here and there did seem a bit out of the lexicon of a fourteen-year-old (“apprehensive,” “indiscretions,” “abatement”), but these were few and far between and perhaps Miles is simply better at accumulating a high-end vocabulary at a young age than most. However, for the most part Miles does sound legit, and this is a high accomplishment.
Though Kill Me Now commendably operates as a character study and a slice of life portrait, the plot is a bit overly episodic at times. Especially in the first half of the novel the reader finds himself wanting a bit more of a story to accompany the pinpoint voice and character. As insightful as Lover’s journal are, entries simply capture what seem to be disconnected days and moments in his life. In the second half of the novel, though, the plot does eventually coalesce around the relationship between Miles and Mister Reese, an elderly neighbor suspected of being a murderer.
Regarding setting, Reed wonderfully portrays Baltimore in this novel. The attentive reader can tell that not only is Timmy Reed knowledgeable about Baltimore and its neighborhoods and streets, but he has a deep-seated understanding of how Baltimore operates, the ebb and flow (and socio-economic standing) of neighborhoods. For instance, early on in the novel Reed includes a little detail about the wanted posters “hanging on a corkboard when you walk into Rite Aid…Like the Wild West.” At another point early on in the novel Miles reflects on the aloof cliquishness of his mostly white neighborhood.
The high promise in Timmy Reed’s work, however, mostly lies in his mix of unexpected humor with an overall shambolic aesthetics. This is evident not simply in the voice of this particular narrator, but rather a strength of Reed’s work in general—the style is genuine, not a pretension or a mimicry of some ideal of fictional craft. Miles Lover offers a rambling, weed-tinged voice that runs counterpoint to the often overly precious, lyrical (and quite dull) fiction doled out on a regular basis by many MFA programs. Reed’s work, on the other hand, is almost that of an outside artist, a writer who has created a memorable skateboarding protagonist who will introduce the reader to the oozing Osage orange, reflect upon the causes of his nose-picking habit, explain what a snizard is, and will notice that the fan catches the diplomas of his probation officer so they “tickled…off the wall like water through the gills of a shark.”
NATHAN LESLIE's ten books of fiction include Three Men, Root and Shoot, and Sibs and Drivers, among others. He is also the author of The Tall Tale of Tommy Twice, a novel, and the poetry collection Night Sweat. Nathan’s work has appeared in hundreds of literary magazines including Boulevard, Shenandoah, North American Review, Hotel Amerika, and Cimarron Review. Nathan was series editor for Best of the Web anthology 2008 and 2009 (Dzanc Books) and edited fiction for Pedestal Magazine for many years.
Recently Nathan was interviews editor at Prick of the Spindle and over the past two years he wrote a monthly music column for Atticus Review. His work appeared in Best Small Fictions 2016 and earlier this year his work was published in Flash! A flash fiction anthology published by Norton and edited by John Dufresne. He is the founder and host of the monthly Reston Readings series and he teaches in Northern Virginia at Northern Virginia Community College. He is currently the series editor for Best Small Fictions 2019 and is the founding editor of the new literary magazine Maryland Literary Review.