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By Christopher Stoddard
Reviewed by Jason Pettus
Back when I was doing research into the "Nelson Algren at 100" series I started at the blog several years ago, one of the things that became really clear to me was how exactly the new community of "social realist" writers of the 1920s and '30s worked, as seen in microcosm in Chicago where Algren was located; that for each of the only handful of those writers who eventually became huge and stood the test of time (Algren, Richard Wright, John Steinbeck, etc), there were dozens of other writers working and publishing at the same time, with their short pieces in the magazines and their small cadre of devoted fans, but who were never able to make things click with their careers because their politically motivated work was just too heavy-handed, too obvious, too cartoonishly dark. And so it still is in the world of social realist literature, as typified in an almost textbook way by Christopher Stoddard's new Limiters; for while it's written in an engaging style, featuring a nice mix of plot and character development, Stoddard unfortunately just lays it on way too thick, almost to the point at times of writing an accidental parody of a social realist novel instead of just a social realist novel.
I mean, the book is fine, don't get me wrong, which is the whole reason that a literary scene doesn't have just two or three writers in it, but a whole circle of people who are generally liked by their peers; the tale of a modern lumpen-proletarian teen from about the most broken family you can even imagine (father in jail, mother a groupie skank, stepfather who's only nineteen himself, brother who's dead), it's a very readable and moving coming-of-age tale about our hero and all his Larry-Clarkesque loser friends, very literary in style but with a power over visual imagery almost as good as a screenplay. But man, the bleakness is relentless in this short, black, blackly short, shortly black tale, which defeats the "realist" part of trying to write a social realist book; and by the time we get to the part where the narrator recounts the day in his childhood when his pet cat was run over by a car while he watched, and his parents scooped him up half-dead into a discarded pizza box while the cat vomited and defecated on itself, I began to wonder if I hadn't actually stumbled into a sly Zucker-Brothers-style satire of the genre. A promising book but just with a few big flaws, it's getting a middle-of-the-road score but one slanting upwards; it's obvious that Stoddard is a talented young author, and once he learns how to inject a little levity into his dark but interesting writing, he's sure to one day have a truly great novel on his hands.
Out of 10: 8.2