“Willink tells his story in quick blasts of haiku-like writing with dialogue reminiscent of early David Mamet. Told with a gritty simplicity.” Publishers Weekly, November 2021
“A crackerjack thriller … Timeless.” Booklist, November 2021
It’s unusual to begin a review of this brilliant new novella from Jocko Willink with a quote from Marshall McLuhan in his famous Understanding Media from the mid-60s. Yet, it seems appropriate. The quote:
Francis Bacon never tired of contrasting hot and cool prose. Writing in ‘methods’ or complete packages, he contrasted with writing in aphorisms, or single observations such as ‘Revenge is a kind of wild justice.’ The passive consumer wants packages, but those, he suggested, who are concerned in pursuing knowledge and in seeking causes will resort to aphorisms, just because they are incomplete and require participation in depth.Understanding Media
The above idea would be explored in McLuhan’s idea of “hot” and “cool” media. Hot media was more complete than cool media and required less “participation” by the reader/audience in constructing. Hot media is filled with information. Somewhat like something from Proust. The details are filled in for us so there is less participation in the reader in constructing the image the author wants to convey. However, cool media is more ambiguous and incomplete and require “participation in depth” on the part of the reader/audience.
The new novella by Jocko Willink is a brilliant example of the a “cool” literary style providing very little information and therefore opening up the possibility of the reader/audience of the book to participate in depth in constructing how they see the story. It uses the Japanese Haiku poetry style of attempting to provide the basic images of a particular situation without editorializing or commenting on them. The style is similar in some ways to the poems of E.E. Cummings. Words are not placed in the usual order on a page. Decriptions or expositions of a scene are usually made from one word descriptions and indented more and more with each word so one sees a ladder effect on the page. In addition, the typestyle of the book is not something a usual publisher would set a book in but rather the typestyle in the fonts that old typewriters had before the age of computers. In effect, the book appears like a first draft of a work for publication.
It wouldn’t be going too far to suggest modern literature is searching for a new style to communicate stories in our post, post-modern era. The fact we haven’t yet invented a word for all of this is evidence a new style of literature is needed and waits to be born. The style of Final Spin provides much impetus and direction for a new style of writing. Rather than define its time and place, the story exists in a somewhat similar space to a book like J. M. Coetzee’s Waiting for the Barbarians. We are only given information about the story when the author absolutely needs to give this. He doesn’t offer it up easily to us. The town could be any of the thousands of towns in America. The characters are ones we all know. The time is placed a little before the era of cell phones as pay phones play a part in the story.
One of the major accomplishments of Final Spin is that it provides a new type of hybrid writing that locates itself between screenplay form and novel form. A number of comments on the Amazon page for the book mention this, viewing it as a draft for a screenplay. Yet the value of the style of Willink is that it is just fine with this postion of being in a hybred location between the two art forms today. As a genre, it finds much connection with the harsh, brutal work of Jim Thompson and particularly brilliant works of his like The Killer Inside of Me.
The book has much going for it as suggesting a new literary style. Yet, the underlying story and emotions this presents, can certainly stand on their own. In many ways, its a story about a younger brother protecting his mentally-challenged older brother from the savages of a life. His older brother Arty is manager of a laundromat and his greatest pleasure is seeing clothes washed clean and keeping the big laundormats going for the Dutch couple that owns the place. The biggest thing for his brother is seeing a perfect “spin” cycle in the laundry machines he is in charge of. But Johnny, our hero, is stuck in a meaningless night shift as a stocking boy in a big box store. The store could be any one of the thousands of big box stores around the nation. Johnny desires to protect his brother from the harsh realities of life but when the Dutch couple says they need to sell the laudromat and go back to Holland, an idea develops with younger brother Johnny to keep his brother happy by continuing his work at the laundromat.
A brilliant entrance into fiction by a well-know writer of non-fiction. Hopefully, Final Spin will not be his final venture into fiction.
Watch a trailer for the book from publisher St. Martin’s Press.
Watch an interview with the author about the book.
Amazon page for Final Spin