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Review Detail

Satire May 26, 2017
A Funny, Great Book
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Songs from Richmond Avenue by Michael Reed is a smart, gritty tale filled with humor, charm and second (make that third and fourth) chances. The nameless narrator (it’s amusing how in all his scenes, dialogues, and interactions Reed playfully keeps the name from the reader) is dealing with the losses of friends who populate the ne’er-do-well Houston neighborhood surrounding Richmond when he meets the lovely Michelle on the bus. Their tumultuous romance begins at the seedy Relix Club during one endless night (it goes on for a couple of days) that carries the two through encounters with the bar’s regulars, the caretaking of the three-legged, mutton-chopped, stubby-tailed mutt named Strummer, threats from Michelle’s entitled yet deranged ex-boyfriend, the death of yet another friend, conversations with the homeless Ned and Bridgman, a twisted tale of what happened to the narrator over someone else’s gambling debt, and the regular and amusing reappearances of colorful characters with names like the Buddhist. Beer and other spirits flow throughout and the reader is taken along for a ride at once intoxicating and engaging. At a core level, the story is the traditional guy chases girl, even as the guy’s shiftless friends and lack of stability make him feel unworthy of her. “Soon I knew she’d realize, whether she just knew things or not, that guys like me never completely run out of mistakes and that knowing guys like me wasn’t a particularly good career move either.” Reed has a gift of creating ridiculous characters who are not caricatures. Because his narrator engages his quirky friends with an earnest familiarity, the reader finds their predilections and idiosyncrasies credible. Endowed with this surreal cast of characters, Songs from Richmond Avenue hums along on its own perverse, comic logic. “It seemed the only thing I knew for sure about Honey Sanchez was that her name wasn’t Honey Sanchez.” Reed’s narrator stumbles through his misadventures, wryly observing, groping toward romance, with just enough self-deprecation and wit to make the reader convinced he has a real shot at finding love. He is simultaneously earnestly bewildered – “I never understood a lot of things less complicated than why people put up with each other” – yet surprisingly determined: “On the one side, the right of privacy, simple common decency and, of course, the law. On the other, doing what I wanted to do.” Scene after scene delivers, whether it’s the trip to the Fiesta Supermarket or the time in the office with Michelle’s boss Abraham Wade. Filled with satiric commentary, Songs from Richmond Avenue has clever, interconnecting story lines that loop back around to each other. No tale is more telling than the one of Jonesy, journalist and composer of bombastically hilarious verses, whose fate serves as a revealing allegory of our times. Songs from Richmond Avenue is a wonderful debut by Reed. He is an infectious writer who style makes the pages fly by. I truly look forward to his future works which I am confident will make me laugh and think as much as this fine novel has. 

Review By Michael P. Hartnett
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