Sunday, December 16

Kill Me - Stephen White

When Kill Me opens, White’s nameless protagonist is racing down the road in his beloved Porsche 911 – though he notices a series of men with walkie talkies positioned strategically along the motorway, he assumes they’re police, involved in the hunt for the Colorado sniper. That is until he’s almost squashed underneath falling barrels from the back of a semitrailer that’s ‘coincidentally’ boxed him in traffic. That’s when he knows that the Death Angels are picking up the pace.
A wealthy, self-made man, he is in robust good health in 2004, when he and some friends went heli-skiing in the Canadian Rockies. Shaken by the news that a friend who’d chosen to go diving instead of skiing sustained oxygen deprivation and is now brain-damaged, he is then involved in a life-threatening fall when he skis onto a cornice of snow-covered ice, not granite. With the example of Antonio in front of him, he tells his friends that he wants to be killed if anything, anything like that ever happens to him.
Although most of his friends laugh it off, one later approaches him to say that, if he’s serious, that can be arranged, but he needs to seriously think about it.
He discovers a secretive, selective, expensive service, run by an undetermined person and employing an undetermined number of people. For a substantial fee, and with significant detail about the parameters required, your life can be ended, painlessly, quickly and ‘accidentally’ – avoiding a lingering death from cancer, or the kind of twilight life of Antonio. There’s just one thing – it all has to be set up in advance of any events, and once a predetermined threshold (like diagnosis of a fatal illness) is crossed there’s no way to stop it.
The novel is told primarily from the protagonist’s perspective, bookended by White’s usual narrator, psychologist Alan Gregory. The main character’s story unrolls in a combination of flashback and ‘real time’ narration, which heightens the narrative suspense. It’s obvious from the set-up that he changes his mind, and the battle is between unwilling prey and the hunters he set on his own trail. What’s interesting is how the situation arose, why he changes the plan, and how he goes about it. I liked his thoughts about his sessions with Alan Gregory, one of my favourite series characters, the narrative style and the unique plot concept. However there were several significant flaws for me in the concept of the exclusive service, questions our protagonist – no hero, but a nice portrayal of a single-minded, self-oriented industrialist - doesn’t think of until it’s too late but that concerned me from the beginning. And I know it would have destroyed the whole novel, but there was no acknowledgment that what a healthy person considers unacceptable compromise is different from what the same person at a future time with different experiences considers unacceptable. In other words, there’s no allowance for changes of preference over time and as a consequence of experience – a key concept in ethics, but inclusion of which would have made for a very different text!
As a one-off I quite enjoyed White’s departure from his usual style, but I look forward to reading a more conventional Alan Gregory novel next time around. - Alex

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