Characters enter a reader’s mind, and if they are memorable or intriguing they may take residence within the reader’s thoughts long after a story has been read. Sometimes, these characters are epic, both in their uniqueness and in how the narrative forms around them. Raskolnikov, from Crime and Punishment, driven by his delusions and guilt is a character that has remained with me for years. Turning to contemporary fiction, almost any character from Infinite Jest stands out as rich and remarkable as their personalities take shape. After reading “Goo Book” by Keith Ridgway, it seemed like the story was being created around a minor character.
The main character is nameless. He’s a small time pickpocket and thief who abhors violence. He works part-time driving Mishazzo, who is some kind of crime boss. The main character’s father set him up with the job. When he’s away from work, he spends time with his girlfriend, with whom he has a relationship where communication comes in the form of emotional thoughts written in a shared book and sadomasochistic sex. He loves her so much that he thinks the word “myself meant him and her together,” yet they are only able to share these feelings when alone with the book. The seemingly simple world of the main character is shook up when two police officers blackmail him into informing on Mishazzo. Trapped between his love for his girlfriend and his instinct for self-preservation, the main character starts to unravel as the pressure builds.
When he starts the job, he’s told by a middleman named, Price, that he is to be “completely fucking deaf, blind, [and] mute. You are a stone. You are stupid. You understand nothing. You remember nothing. You drive the fucking car. And that is all you fucking do.” Later, when Mishazzo asks if gossips, the main character replies that he doesn’t, that doesn’t know why, and when pressed, that he’s not interested in people or anything beyond himself. As mentioned earlier, that definition includes his girlfriend and their love for one another. So, here we have a story about a character who is supposed to remain in the background as part of his job, whether as a pickpocket, a driver, or an informant. Is it for this reason that he remains nameless, because out of all the other characters he is the least important?
His importance is even overshadowed by the title, “Goo Book,” the scrawled notebook full of the thoughts he and his girlfriend are unable to express out loud and in person. This one thing, this book, is the most interesting part of the character. It’s the detail that takes him from being a generic stock character to something fuller.
When I read stories, I hope for those moments which make me think, which challenge my perceptions, or demand something greater from me. “Goo Book” makes me think about character. Why is a story told from a certain perspective, how does that story unfold? According to an interview, this is part of a larger collection of stories involving the detectives, Hawthorn and Child, and their pursuit of Mishazzo. In the larger narrative, the driver is a minor character caught between men of power. How is the larger story made richer through the driver’s perspective? We see the way he’s pressured by the detectives, the way he’s intimidated by Mishazzo, and through it all we see how it has changed his life. “His mind was dividing. Parts of it were roped off. There were things he could say. There were things he could not say but could write in the book. And now there were things he could neither say nor write but only think, and they pressed up against the others like they wanted to fight.” While “Goo Book” may seem to occur strictly on the surface, there is more to it if the reader questions Ridgway’s choices; however, for readers that wish to sit on the surface of a story, “Goo Book” is an entertaining short story that will appeal to those who like crime noir.