Tuesday, December 13, 2022

Beach Bodies

There I was, last book, reading an obscure Ford Madox Ford novel named A Call.  It's a 1925 novel of manners set among the British upper class, with all that entails. I enjoyed it, as I do those kind of books from time to time, but when I finished it, I felt myself in the mood for something different, in tone, style, period, everything.  Cut to a Kindle download, and I'm reading the recent Nick Kolakowski novella Beach Bodies, which in every imaginable way is about as far as you can get from a 1925 British novel of manners.

Beach Bodies is vintage Nick. It has a slightly off-the-wall premise, smooth writing, a very fast pace, sarcasm, violence both over the top and funny, and a core, it turns out, of earnest emotion.  Not that earnestness or any kind of emotion will necessarily save anyone in the end, but it's there, giving the main characters in a story 90 or so pages long just enough depth and background to make them relatable and of substance.

The set-up here: Julia has gotten a job caring for and living in a billionaire's doomsday bunker that is on an island somewhere tropical. Above the bunker is a gorgeous beach, the ocean.  She has allowed in one guest, an ex-boyfriend name Alec, just back from the Russia-Ukraine war he got caught in the middle of while living in Kyiv trading cryptocurrency.  The bunker is utterly isolated and has every technological amenity one could imagine, but it also has surveillance equipment that allows Julia (and Alec) to be watched at all times by Julia's recruiter, who is off somewhere, Julia presumes, "in a comfortable office far above the streets of Seattle or Los Angeles or Hong Kong".

To this idyllic but creepy locale come three other people, two men and a woman, and their intentions, shall we say, are not what you would describe as friendly.  Besides, how did they get to this out-of-the-way location, how did they even know it exists, and what's the so-called mission that they say they're on?  In no time at all, Beach Bodies reveals itself as a home invasion thriller of sorts, (or should we call it a bunker invasion), and from there the plot and incidents really take off, getting progressively more and more extreme.  Action mixes with mystery mixes with gory slapstick mixes with science fiction. It's Julia and Alec against the intruders, and along the way we get to learn their backstory, a relationship not without its high points and also its ludicrously low ones.  And at the very end, what's going on is made clear, in a twist that makes sense and actually has an emotional basis.  The payoff satisfies.

Over several books now, Nick Kolakowski has been honing his distinctive approach, which is to blend genre tropes with a healthy dose of acerbic social commentary.  What he does especially well is keep his plots hurtling along while making his satiric and biting points, no small feat, and he's adept at quick sketch characterizations that keep the proceedings from becoming cartoonish.  Beach Bodies does all this, and, I should add, has a quite resonant final line.  As a reader, it's always nice to end a book with a chuckle, and with this one, courtesy of Nick, I did.

You can get Beach Bodies here.


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