A storm is coming and Jimmy feels it. As his birthday draws near and his brother returns from the Parachute Regiment, Jimmy faces a future that could break him. And then there’s the sea – always the sea.
Thugs Like Us tells the story of Jimmy, a pill-popping, grog-swilling, off-the-rails punk living in a working class home in the coastal district town of Broadgate, England. The structure is basically “a week in the life”, but it’s a pretty eventful few days.
We live through Jimmy’s birthday, the return home of his older brother, the important decision of his best friend and a number of sexual encounters, each of varying importance. There are a few cross-road moments in the story, but in each one Jimmy seems to make the wrong choice, pushing him further towards a fate that I believe he expects and, therefore, doesn’t struggle against.
This story feels a little like an S E Hinton novel with a UK punk feel. Regardless of feelings and thoughts, the characters move, as if on rails, to a destination already chosen for them.
This is the kind of story I can really enjoy and I certainly enjoyed this one. There was only one scene where I felt disconnected because of a logical continuity issue that wasn’t significant to the message, but threw me nevertheless. An underage night in a bar where alcohol was not permitted was suddenly full of beer drinkers. I didn’t understand what had changed to make this a logical development so I remained thrown out of the story for a bit.
The blurb refers to Jimmy, the protagonist, as a ‘caged animal’. Although, this is accurate on the surface, there is more to this character than merely a trapped feral. Jimmy’s response to his captivity is ambivalent. Although his aggression is externalised, it sometimes seems less an act of defiance and more an act of self-sabotage. He has a pervasive fear of the sea, but I’m not sure it’s because he feels hemmed in by it. His response could also represent an almost agoraphobic fear of freedom and the change required to gain it.
I really felt like I connected with Jimmy. While not a punk myself, I appreciated his fear of change, his reaction to the sea – that dark, uncaring destroyer always at the edge of his senses, and his need for violent self-sabotage.
Two other characters seemed to have the most impact on Jimmy. His brother, Martin, became the awful failure he could look forward to. The imagined success of his time in the army soon dissolves in the overwhelming urges of violence and self-obliteration. The other, Singe, his best friend, provided an almost perfect validation for all of Jimmy’s irrational fears in a scene as mesmerising as it was unsettling.
In the end I was left with the impression that the fear of escape was a stronger motivation than the frustration of captivity.
The writing itself is fantastic. I felt every punch the author threw; Jimmy’s fears, his anger, his obsession with the sea. Every intention coursed through the writing like an electric current.
Singe’s final scene was breath-taking and that scene alone would be reason for a re-read.
This is a debut novel, but I’m hoping it’s not the last. For those who like a bit of S E Hinton ‘realness’ and wouldn’t mind translating that to a harsher British setting, now is the time to purchase and enjoy Thugs Like Us.
Price at the time of review: $2.99 US
Available: Amazon, Smashwords
Author site: http://beatthemtodeathwiththeirownshoes.wordpress.com/
GoodReads page: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17384501-thugs-like-us