Tim Powers,
Down & Out in Purgatory
(Subterranean Press, 2016)

Tom Holbrook loved Shasta DiMaio in college, but she chose to marry a mutual friend, John Atwater, who later killed her. Holbrook, who hasn't made much of his life, lives only with the thought of revenge -- until Atwater dies of natural causes, in happy circumstances, effectively cheating Holbrook of his only remaining ambition.

So Holbrook decides the only option left to him is pursuing Atwater into the limbo of Purgatory, where he can destroy Atwater's essence and deny him an afterlife. The fact that such a move would likewise cause Holbrook's death doesn't phase him.

Tim Powers' Down & Out in Purgatory is a brief novel that traces Holbrook's journey to, and through, a certain realm of Purgatory. It's not a pleasant trip.

I respect Powers' clever world-building, and the characters who flit in and out of Holbrook's immediate circle are charmingly eccentric and odd. And yet, for all that its protagonist has a very clear objective, the short novel drifts without much direction, and I found it impossible to sympathize or identify with any of the folks who appear in these pages. The book just sort of plods along, and I kept hoping Holbrook would find Atwater just so it could be done.

book review by
Tom Knapp

12 March 2016

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