NOVEL APPROACH: Picking up ‘Bad Habits’

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First Posted: 1/3/2014

Each of us has one, but for some of us, it’s deep and dark. Submerged to the depths, we believe it ceases to exist until the day it finally resurfaces. In “Bad Habits” by Keith Gilman, readers are given a collection of noir — stories that are stark and visceral — demonstrating a reality that does not shy away from the quick shadows at the corners of our eyes.

The collection includes an edifying introduction followed by 17 gripping short stories. Each is well-written, well-researched, and expertly descriptive. While the stories are not necessarily linear with regard to characters, narration, or style, they are all connected by the overarching theme of violence and, in some cases, retribution. But as history has proved, justice is not always served.

As Gilman seems to suggest, sometimes there are no happy endings. In fact, “the narrator cannot always be trusted and the truth is often revealed by those moments of extreme violence that remind the reader that here lies the remains of pain and death, with the hope for redemption hanging just out of reach.”

In many of the stories, there seems to be a connection between danger and perception, the gut instinct leading many of the characters to make a critical decision. As a result, after reading the work in its entirety, you may find yourself more aware of your surroundings. Imagine a late night stroll in the city. You remember the last notable group some streets earlier heckling from what you envision was a post-pub crawl. Now it’s just you and the darkness. Your mind begins to list the abysmal and, in an instant, you decide to pick up the pace. After all, our best judgment is often led by intuition.

Interspersed dialogue can be found throughout most of the stories. While dialogue can oftentimes be tricky, Gilman adds conversations into the pieces with ease. We read without pause as the stories take hold of us. Of course, where Gilman is exceptionally talented is his use of description; this is most notable in standout pieces “Say Your Prayers,” “Guts,” “Devil’s Pocket,” “Blue Flame,” and “Condiment King.”

In my personal favorite, “Blue Flame,” we meet a young woman with “soft, downcast eyes and an innocent mouth without a hint of a smile … with an expression on her face as if the world had saddled her up and rode her into the ground.” Innocent as she may seem, sometimes there is fury in the path of righteousness.

Much of the collection is consequential and, in many ways, cautionary. However, “Bad Habits” is not without redemption. In the end, we complete the work heeding Samuel Johnson’s words: “Revenge is an act of passion; vengeance of justice.”

‘Bad Habits’ by Keith Gilman Rating: W W W W W