I read far more nonfiction than fiction, and a good portion of the fiction I’ve read in my life has been “classics” from the distant past. But I happened to come across a review raving about Assumption and its author Percival Everett, so I decided to give it a try.
The work is called a novel, but it is structured more like three short stories with the same protagonist–a deputy sheriff in New Mexico. It’s crime drama/mystery type stuff.
On the positive side, this book has more depth than is typical of the genre (at least what little I’ve read of the genre). There’s more going on in terms of psychology, race, class, etc. The protagonist is half black and half white, for instance, and it’s clear that that matters to how he lives his life, how he sees himself, how others see him, and so on.
Everett is good at painting creepy characters–low level drug dealers, prostitutes, and the rural poor and such. It’s a little like the movie Winter’s Bone in that respect, though it’s not quite as well done, as realistic, as that.
That relates to the main problem I had with Assumption, the main reason I’d say it was a mild disappointment. Most of the book put me in mind of a mid-level TV cop drama series or miniseries. The dialogue feels like fiction; this deputy sheriff is unrealistically continuously involved in various adventures, mysteries, and shootouts and other violence. I kept imagining all this on TV; I think it would transfer over very comfortably, which isn’t an unmixed compliment for literature.
I think my expectations were too high based on the one review I had read in advance. The review had made me think the book would really stand out as something special, and also had stated that the ending to the final story is a real shocker and changes all that had come before. (And is probably the source of the book’s title. A lot of the assumptions you make as a reader–especially as far as trusting that what you are being told by the narrator along the way is accurate–are cast into doubt.) So when I experienced the book as reasonably well written, mostly able to hold my interest, and with an ending that was a surprise but not as big of a “Wow!” moment as I’d been led to expect, it felt like a letdown.
I didn’t hate Assumption by a long shot. I think it’s probably fairly good for what it is. But I wasn’t blown away.
I would not be averse to reading more by Percival Everett, but I’m not strongly inclined to.