Having just finished reading Matt Sumell's Making Nice, my brain must have gone into meltdown and I had no idea where to start a review for a book so unique and, I'd even say, disturbing. I therefore decided to look up the meaning of the title, an American colloquialism that I'd never heard before. According to the Collins American dictionary, it means "to try to be friendly or cooperative". Well, that's about as far away from my first impressions of Alby, the central character in the book, as you could possibly get !
The book introduces us to Alby's family, an eclectic and rather eccentric bunch who make the guests on Jeremy Kyle and Jerry Springer's shows look downright sane and saintly ! Alby is so full-on, unpleasant and basically deranged that I almost gave up on the book after reading the first third. I'm well used to reading novels with imperfect heroes and antiheroes, but they all have appealing sides or mitigating circumstances somewhere. Alby is just downright weird ! He is misogynistic, unempathetic, violent and warped. He likes punching people and things, brags about coercive/unprotected sex and, when he finally shows a slightly more caring and normal side, trying to save an injured baby bird, he spoils it all by fantasising about teaching it to rape other birds. He's beyond help !
The novel looks at how the family come to terms with (or not) the death of Alby's mother from cancer. I would usually feel some sympathy for him but he was already seriously messed up and unpleasant before the trauma. When you really, REALLY don't like the central character of a book, especially when he's the first person narrator, it makes it hard to see beyond him to the bigger picture, which is a shame, because, as I battled my way through the novel, I did start seeing some kinder, less vicious and more humane prose and realised that Matt Sumell actually can write. It's hard work getting through the unpleasant shock-value to the more meaningful and touching story beyond though. Even Alby evolves into a less caustic, more understanding and soulful character but by then, the damage was done and I just couldn't bring myself to like him whatever he did !
It's an interesting, occasionally poignant, sometimes amusing but often disturbing look at how one family evolves through grief. If Alby was a more likeable character, it would be touching but he just made the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end and I couldn't get beyond that !
star rating : I'll go for a 3/5, on the basis that you will either love it or loathe it
RRP : £12.99
Disclosure : I received a free copy of the book in order to write an honest review.