Chum by Jeff Somers (Tyrus, September 2013)-Chum opens with the wedding of Mary and Bickerman, as narrated by Mike. As he takes in the scene with its requisite drinking and carousing, you’ll get a taste early of the dark undercurrent that runs through Mike and his group of “friends”. I use the term loosely. Mike seems to be the least sociopathic of the bunch, and strangely, I don’t mean that in a bad way, and that may even be unfair to Mike. He’s actually quite sensitive and tends to come off like a wet blanket, but he’s loyal, and his observations were, for me, the glue that held this story together. His are not the only observations, however, we get perspective from just about everyone on the cast list. Not all of them, though. Tom and Mike are the main navigators in the treacherous waters of the year following the wedding, and about the very dark secret that holds them all together.
Chum is a huge departure from Jeff Somers’ other work (his UF series, The Ustari Cycle and the sf Avery Cates series), but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t work. I was pulled into this one immediately, and I think what got me is Somers’ honest excavation of friendship. Especially the friendships that we cultivate as adults. I don’t know if there’s actually a character in Chum that’s particularly likeable, although Mike comes close, but he’s seen as weak in turn by his girlfriend Denise and also by Tom. Ohh, Tom. Tom’s passages were actually some of my favorite, because he’s such a scoundrel that it’s almost shocking, and he says things in his narrative that most of us would probably have loved to say at some point in our lives, but were afraid to. He’s certainly a sociopath, and possibly more, but his passages are where the exquisite dark comedy in Chum comes out in force. I laughed out loud at times and was mildly ashamed of myself for doing so (but not for long.) Mike is a guilty pleasure, to be sure, and reminded me a bit of Patrick Bateman in American Psycho (although, as far as I know, without the horrid killing spree). As un-charming as these hard-drinking, sometimes back-stabbing group of friends are, I saw a bit of myself in all of them, especially in their insecurities, and I’m betting you will too. The observations are swift, smart, often brutal, and sometimes blackly hilarious. Remember that dark secret I mentioned? You’ll begin to suspect what it is later in the story, but the author is subtle, and this book can’t be categorized as suspense or even as a mystery, although it has elements of both. Don’t let the term “character study” scare you away, because Chum is indeed spot on in that capacity, but reading as these friends’ lives unravel spectacularly, you can’t take your eyes off of it. Trust me on this one, it’s a must read, and it showcases the awesome versatility of a very, very talented author.