America loves extremes. As a nation, it tends to love its soldiers but holds contempt for its homeless. Sadly, the latter emotion trumps the former, with many veterans given the cold shoulder after failing to adapt to civilian life and ending up on the streets .
A vagrant. A worthless, lazy, piece of human trash begging for leftovers and the hard-earned money of others on every street corner in the city.
This is the struggle at the core of Kevin Berg’s Indifference. Michael is a Vietnam vet who now spends his time bothering drivers for spare change; money that will keep him fed and, more importantly, drunk. The responses he gets from motorists vary greatly, from respect for his past to seering hatred for his current state.
While Michael is the main character, he’s absent from a lot of the book. He’s a conduit, as it’s the people he interacts with that we follow for most of the story — the high-flying salesman and the angsty IT worker, the trophy wife and the caring nurse — which gives the author greater scope to tell his stories.
She is wonderful. She brings him ice water and keeps bothering the slackers on his behalf, until they begin to ignore her as well. She only gets the standard “We are busy,” “It’s coming, be patient,” “The doctor is with another patient,” and “Who the fuck are you? Don’t you have somewhere you need to be right now? Let us do our jobs.”
This book is marketed as dark humour/satire, and for the most part that’s what it is. It’s clever, it’s biting and it has some very strong messages to share. However, it’s Berg’s flexibility as a writer that’s most awe-inspiring. As a satire writer, he’s brilliant, but that’s not all he does.
He drains the cup and rises, taking in the balding, greasy lump in front of him, lazily wrapped in a wrinkled shirt and slacks covered with stains. The man pulls on the retracting keyring attached to his belt, overcome with nervous anticipation and anxiety, but fails miserably to present an imposing image of authority.
The novel is a constant source of surprises, mostly pleasant, which keeps the reader guessing. The book starts with a prologue set during the America-Vietnam War, which is vomit-inducing. And that’s intended as a compliment, as that’s what Berg almost certainly intended. It’s a hard-hitting and powerful section, which strongly grabs the reader as soon as the book begins. The sex scene too, which admittedly came by surprise, is better than the smut turned out by most dedicated erotica authors.
That isn’t to say that this book is perfect. There are parts where the author goes a bit over the top or storylines that end promptly by taking the easy route. There are times when it seems like the author’s just having a bit of a whinge. However, those criticisms are small flaws that pale into insignificance when you look at the book as a whole.
Striking13 was created to try to find the best of the unknown, and Kevin Berg’s Indifference definitely fits into that category. You may not want to buy it for your gran, but if you’re okay with a bit of swearing, a bit of gore and a bit of a twisted mind, you’ll fall in love with it.
Update: This review was originally written with the author listed as Barry Blokes. The author has now changed his pen name, and it has been updated to reflect that.