James Sallis : Others of My Kind (2013)

Other of my kind

Back in 2012 I read and reviewed Drive by James Sallis. I’ve been meaning to read more of him ever since and when I saw Others of My Kind at a local book shop I decided to read it.

The narrator of the book is Jenny, a woman who had been abducted as a child and held captive in a box under a bed for a couple of years. When her captor comes home at night, he gets her out, abuses and plays with her.  After managing to escape she lives in mall before she’s found and enters the foster care system. Suing for emancipation she becomes an adult at the age of 16. When the novel opens she works as production editor for a local TV station. One evening, when returning home from work, a detective waits for her in front of her house. Recognizing a fellow loner when she sees one, she asks the handsome detective in and serves him dinner. Right away there’s an intimacy and an understanding between the two. Jack has come to ask Jenny a favour. A twenty year-old woman who has been kept under similar circumstances has been found. The young woman shows signs of trauma and isn’t talking. Jack believes it would help if Jenny spoke to her. She agrees and the incident triggers memoroes of her own past.

Others of My Kind is a slim novel, saying more about the plot would spoil it too much. I found it very unusual in its choice of topic. In a way all of our expectations are turned upside down and we learn to see horrible things form an unexpected angle. I liked the main character Jenny quite a lot. She’s a character who has grown from what has happened to her and who has developed an astonishing capacity for compassion and a genuine ability to do something truly good without asking for anything in return. I found it refreshing that an author attempted to show that horrible circumstances don’t necessarily have to damage a person for life and that he managed to illustrate this without belittling the horrible events that happened in Jenny’s past. The result is a crime novel with an almost Buddhist vibe.

Sallis isn’t your usual crime writer. Not only because his stories are unusual but because of his pared down style. When you pare down sentences and scenes like Sallis, leaving only the most necessary, each and every single of your sentences will have a special power and meaning. Each element is chosen carefully, each scene stripped down to the bare minimum. A lesser writer would achieve something choppy and fragmented, while Sallis reaches another kind of fluidity. 

This book really put me in the mood to read more of him. I want to read The Killer is Dying next but I’m open for other suggestions.

34 thoughts on “James Sallis : Others of My Kind (2013)

  1. The thing that immediately struck me when I was reading your review, was: no one who’d been kept in a box under a bed and abused as a child could end up with a normal life and an extremely good job as a production editor. So it was very interesting to read on and hear you saying how refreshing it was to read a story in which trauma could be overcome. I am afraid I would struggle to find the situation plausible, but maybe Sallis works this out in a convincing way for the reader and shows how recovery is possible?

    • I could imagine this book could trigger some controversial discussions. I have a had time imagining I wouldn’t have been traumatized and damaged. Jenny isn’t traumatised, she’s just withdrawn because she cannot speak to people about her feelings as they are not what you’d expect.
      I’m pretty sure there are people who went through awful things without being traumatized.

  2. This review caused me to have a rather interesting reaction. I was reading along thinking yes, yes, yes, definitely want to read this – and then you said crime fiction and I just deflated and thought oh, but I don’t want to read crime fiction… Now I’m debating withy self whether genre can be more important than content …! I think (hope) the narrow-minded me is going to loose.

  3. The paired down style that you refer to makes me think of Ernest Hemingway though I am not sure if the styles are similar or not. In the correct hands writing like this creates a certain beauty in simplicity.

    As for the character I would have to think that it might be difficult to fashion one who experienced such things in childhood. Your commentary indicates that she is not what one would expect. I think that this would which likely would be true in real life.

  4. I was hugely impressed by Drive. I have this and am looking forward to reading it. I don’t have a huge issue with the idea that someone could overcome trauma. It strikes me sometimes there’s something almost bullying in the way as a society we say that trauma must direct a person’s life going forward. Obviously for some people, many, that’s true but there’s almost a sense that as a culture we don’t approve of people getting over trauma – they have to be damaged or we’re suspicious.

    • Thanks for that comment, Max, as that’s exactly how I felt about this book and that’s why I thought it was refreshing. It just doesn’t rely on easy explanations. I’m convinced that there are people who can overcome trauma, but our society seems to think it’s almost more dysfunctional if you do.
      I hope you’ll get to this sooner rather than later, I’d be so interested to read what you think of it.

  5. Beautiful review, Caroline! I haven’t heard of James Sallis before. It is interesting to know that he wrote ‘Drive’ 🙂 ‘Others of My Kind’ looks like a very interesting book, starting from the beautiful title. Though it is on a disturbing topic, your review makes me want to pick the book. It is also nice that the book is slim 🙂 Jenny’s character is quite inspiring – to reach where she has, after going through the difficult times that she went through – that takes a lot of courage. I can’t imagine how the author is able to show horrible things from an unexpected angle – makes me want to find out. I loved this sentence from your review – “The result is a crime novel with an almost Buddhist vibe” – so beautifully put.

  6. I have The Killer is Dying (thanks to Guy’s review) and Death Will Have Your Eyes as well. Must get to them.
    I thought the movie Drive was pretty good, and Max’s praise fo it means I’ll try it as well.

    • Drive was my first “taste” of Sallis as well and I liked it. I just received The Killer is Dying so I’ll get to that soon. This one is very different from his other books but I still liked it. It has his signature style.

  7. I have Drive waiting on the Kindle so I’ll read this one first.
    The idea if this one reminds me of the two recent cases of women who were kept prisoner like this, one in Austria and one in America.

  8. You’ve really piqued my interest with this review, Caroline. I just finished a book about a woman who survived three years in Auschwitz, so it may be possible to lead a fairly normal life afterwards. Each person handles trauma differently. Haven’t read this author before, but probably will now.

    • I think there really is a wide range of possible reactions to traumatic events. I found his approach interesting but I’m sure Jenny’s not typical.
      I’d be interested to hear your thoughts on Sallis.

  9. I remember when you wrote about Drive–he writes about some very heavy subject matters it seems–even for crime novels. The description of this makes me think of Room, though only peripherally–it seems to be a situation that authors are writing about a lot lately. Not sure this one is for me, but I do like it when an author approaches a much written about subject in a new way!

    • I think you’d like this. Maybe not his other books.
      I think Emma wrote someting about this subject matter and it seems inspired by true events, just like Room. I’m not a news reader so I’m not always aaware of these conections.

  10. Wow, that’s a powerful subject. I like the sound of the book – the way it explores the aftermath, and the connections between people who’ve experienced similar things. A really spare prose style often works well, I find, especially with shocking events like this, that could become melodramatic if overwritten. I just ordered this, and am looking forward to reading it. Thanks for the review, Caroline.

    • Oh great, Andrew, I can’t wait to hear what yout think of it.
      I think he writes really well and for me it worked that he approached a topic like that from a totally different angle.

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