Down and Out in Purgatory

May 1, 2017 at 5:00 pm (Reads) (, , )

purgatoryDown and Out in Purgatory by Tim Powers


Yay, Tim Powers! I ought to bump his other books up on my list and knock them out this year. I’ve liked most everything he’s written (though The Stress of Her Regard didn’t impress me much), so why am I waiting to read them through my random reading project? Maybe I should rethink my approach to reading my backlog.

Anyway, Down and Out in Purgatory is a standalone novella, about a man named Tom Holbrook, who just found out that the man he vowed to kill is already dead. Tom, you see, has always loved Shasta, a woman who was a part of his group of friends in college. Instead, she married John Atwater, an arrogant member of that same group. He wound up killing her six years before the start of this story, and Tom has vowed revenge since then. The only problem is, how do you enact revenge on someone who’s already dead?

Powers typically does a great job building his worlds and populating them with interesting, though milquetoast, main characters, and Down and Out in Purgatory is no exception. The problem is that the story is so short that he doesn’t have time to examine the character. Tom, however, is a bit of a reversal for Powers, since he starts off motivated this time around. The reasoning for his motivation, though, is different from how Powers has created his past characters, and how he concludes it is surprising, as well.

With Powers, his best works are where he has the room to grow a story. His kind of characterization takes time, and his plots are usually so complex that they need extra space to develop. His novellas, due to their size, skip over these things, and they never feel as realized as his full novels. Still, the story has a strong premise and a satisfying conclusion, meaning that if it were any other writer, it would be a strong story. Knowing what Powers can usually do, though, makes this story less than it could be.

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