Finished May 30, 2011
Rating: 5 stars (out of 5)
The Dart League King, an under-the-radar novel by creative writing professor Keith Lee Morris, is a tour de force of suspenseful writing. While the plot is relatively simple and the characters border on Midwestern archetypes, Morris shows us what can be done if you arrange your pieces just so and move everything to a powerful and affecting climax.
Whether or not this book grabs you as it did me will probably depend on how interesting you find the characters. The action of the novel unfolds in the course of a single evening in Idaho’s Garnet Lake, but there are flashback sequences that round out the story of each character. They are not very likeable people. There’s the town’s resident ne’er-do-well, oafish but handsome jock who has put together the dart league to inject some kind of meaning into his life. There is his opponent in the tournament, a plain, quiet older man who is actually an undercover DEA agent who has wasted half of his life in a sexless marriage. Then there is the crazed 40-something drug dealer who is intent on killing the jock, one of his main clients; the college grad who is haunted by his decision to let a girl drown before his eyes; and the town “hot chick” who has managed to sleep with many of the main characters, and has a child by one (but he doesn’t know it).
In the course of one night, all of these lives intersect in ways that change everyone come the morning. Personally I could not put this book down. Morris does indulge in many cliches to craft his characters, but in this case I found that it made them more believable. I think we all know guys like the jock, Russell Harmon, and the pretty go-nowhere single mom, and the slightly misanthropic but alluring college grad guy. The story was made very believable to me and I found myself very moved by it in the end. I don’t want to give too much away – more people really need to check this book out – but the way things work out for each character in the end is extremely well done. Morris explores everything from love to wasted careers to the notions of success and what “escaping” from a small Midwestern town really means.He does this with well-crafted use of language, from the expletive-laden stream-of-consciousness rants of the drug dealer, Vince Thompson, to the dreamlike picket fence delusions of Kelly Ashton.
All in all, this was a great book, highly recommended. Many thanks to my friend John for turning me on to this.