The Short Version: Nikki is 13, living deep in the country in North Carolina. After her mother dies in an accident, she returns home to her father – formerly one of the biggest coke dealers in the county. Once there, Nikki begins to think about taking control of her life and what it might mean to start dealing on her own.
The Review: So, loyal readers will know (and if you’re just visiting, you should check out) that FSG throws these sweet parties for some of their novels called The Originals Series (usually for FSG Originals imprint books but not always!) and last Thursday, they threw one for Young God. I was there, but I hadn’t read the book yet and snagged a copy while there, shoving it to the top of my to-read stacks after the conversation that evening.
And I read the whole thing in the space of honestly about an hour. This is a novel about the white space as much as it is about the tightly packed prose – you feel the vacancy of the nearly 80,000 words that Morris cut out of the novel, but you never feel like you’re missing something. Their absence is notable, sure, but it isn’t noticeable if you know what I mean; the story takes off like a firecracker and pulls you right along, 22k or 122k.
It’s a pretty brutal book, let’s get that straight. Nikki is thirteen years old here and she does things that someone twice her age might hesitate to do. Hell, she does things that anyone of any age would hesitate to do – but she, with the sort of tricky faux-guileless attitude that only comes from being a child, sizes up opportunities and takes them, right from the start. We meet her when she’s considering jumping off a rock into a pool and she acknowledges the possible dangers but then she goes and there’s a rush and then she seems to have this moment of just… of it having gone by, the rush and the moment. She’s already looking for the next thing, in a way, and that serves her throughout the rest of the novel. She’s smart, although I know people might want to argue otherwise. But Morris spins us a tale here where it seems entirely conceivable that a 13 year old girl could, in fact, start running a drug operation. That she could work over these people far older than she.
It’s a rivetingly horrifying experience.
Having heard Morris talk about the novel, there are things that are somewhat unsettling even beyond the fiction – because, you know, fiction can be horrifying but you know that it’s fiction and it’s just imagined and that’s that. But (and while Morris was very clear to state that none of the events here are from her life – her dad isn’t a pimp/coke dealer, she wasn’t doing heroin at 13, etc – she did say that the story and the setting and all of that are out of her own life) there’s something of reality in all of this that makes you squirm. There are towns and families like these in our country. This is a real thing that happens. Kids doing drugs, girls losing their virginity to their mom’s boyfriends, flagrant flouting of driving restrictions and all that… and all of it at 13. These kids are nearly feral, in a way – and it gives the title of the novel, Young God, a particularly interesting resonance. Perhaps Nikki is a sort of god; we see her at the start of her ascension and if she can keep it together, we all have to assume that she’ll manage to become immensely powerful – and in our modern era, isn’t that essentially what a god is? I thought, randomly, of Lena Headey in Dredd – that sort of a god, one who is all too human but nonetheless as powerful a deity as there can be.
Rating: 4 out of 5. The blast of this novel is almost too strong – it flashes by you like streetlamps exploding as you drive past. The talent present is undeniable, though. To not only write such a visceral, violent novel but to then cut it down so ruthlessly… Katherine Faw Morris might well be her own novel title. Those of you who get squeamish, have any kind of need for any kind of trigger warning, or who don’t appreciate the underbelly of American reality… well, perhaps steer clear. But if you’ve got guts, take a crack at this one. It’ll rock you, roll you, and leave you panting when its over, wondering what the hell just happened – in the best possible way.