by Scott Beauchamp
“Most of the trouble in the world is caused by people wanting to be important.”–T.S. Eliot
Junior Alvarez, the fictional medium that Boice uses to channel Whitey Bulger, is born into an economically and emotionally impoverished family. Pretty much abanoned by his parents after an episode of deliquency leads to his incarceration in a juvenile detention center, he takes ‘Alejandro El Grande’ as his hero and vows to become a powerful man who will sear his image into history itself. There’s a profound restlessnes haunting Alvarez, made all the more powerful by his brutal intelligence. Starting off as a low-level enforcer for a local mob kingpin, The Good and the Ghastly traces Junior’s slow and steady rise towards some undefined evil center of power within himself. There are robberies and murders and bribes. There are lies and rumors that are transformed by violence and fear into urban legend. Which is just the way that Junior wants it. Boice takes us deep inside the inner world of Junior, occasionally identifying so much whith the protagonist that he slips into a first person narration of Junior’s inner voice. Other characters play major roles in the novel, but Junior is obviously the sun around which everything else revolves and depends. Even Josefina Hernandez, who dedicates her life to the hunting and destruction of Junior as retribution for the beating death of her son, is motivated ultimately in response to Junior’s ambition. Junior is the source of all the action. Even in the end of the novel, which concludes in a literal Yin-Yang of insane human desire and frailty, Junior the literary character has accomplished everything he set out to do. He has burned his image into the mind of the reader. This kind of almost intuitive exploration of sociopathy lends itself well to understanding more mild forms of its manifestations in politicians, athletes, businessmen, and *ahem* artists. That may be the most haunting part of inhabiting Junior Alvarez, seeing fragments of him mirroring pieces of yourself.
It should be mentioned that the book takes place in the future. I wont bother to describe in detail the post-nuclear war (but with civilization rebuilt) society that the novel is set in, except to say that it rhymes with ours in a lot of ways with a few kind of humurous twists and misinterpretations of history. For example, most songs are attributed to Bob Dylan and Sarah Palin is remembered as the person who discovered evolution. And at first I found all of this too cute and distracting. What does VISA owning the government lend to the book? But as I settled in to the text I was grateful to be able to see these characters with fresh eyes, in an almost labratory setting, unencumbered by loaded cultural bric-a-brac that a book taking place here and now would have been weighed down by. The strange external environment made it all the easier to enter into Junior’s inner world.