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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Careful! – a book review

Richard Madelin is a British musician and short-story writer. His novel, Careful! was published in America by Ig Publishing in 2004. It received good reviews but they were not converted into mammoth sales. Most published writers will recognise the pattern and dig out that wry smile.

Like Benjy Compson, the severely retarded narrator in Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury, Lenny, Madelin’s character in Careful! speaks to us through a stream-of-consciousness interior monologue. The worlds of both characters are confined to bodily sensation, vague feelings, and an ongoing interpretation of the events in and around their families.

Lenny, named after Lenny Bruce, is mentally retarded after a childhood accident. He works for a pittance in the barn of a local farmer and, somehow, has managed to pass his driving test. He is excited by his relationships outside the influence of his mother. He is an oaf, but amiable, and he garners our empathy. His mother, Alice, is an enigmatic woman, cruel yet concerned for her son, someone who is driven by inner demons neither she nor we quite understand.

Through the interwoven narratives of mother and son we gather that Lenny, at the behest of and rigidly following the instructions of Alice, is in the process of kidnapping a local policeman, who turns out to be his brother and the eldest son of Alice.

Not without incident and accident the plan succeeds and we move on to the setting of the attic room in the big house where the cop, Jack, named after Jack Keruac, is bound and gagged and interrogated by his mother.

I’m not going to give away the denouement of the story, though you will have gathered by its comparison with the Faulker novel that it narrates the course of a tragedy.

And again, like The Sound and the Fury, the tragedy which lies at the heart of Careful! is the tragedy of the decay and the unravelling of a family.

Richard Madelin has the novelists sense of how to leak a story to its reader. The sense of shock and pity which this novel brings is released slowly but cumulatively and with the assurance of someone who understands language and the magic and importance of voice.

5 Responses to “Careful! – a book review”

  1. Richard Madelin says:

    Thank you, John, for your comments about Careful! It’s a long, lonely road for writers and receiving a sensitive reading like this is such a boost.
    I’ve had good reviews but some people find interior monologues difficult to take. I even had a film editor friend tell me that it was cheating.
    William Faulkner is as good as it gets and if it’s all right for him, it’s all right for me.

    jb says: Hi Richard, Good to see you here. It’s a hard time for most writers at the moment, especially that subtle little trick of turning great reviews into sales. I don’t think that interior monologues, or in fact any kind of textual technique, is hard to take. It’s the way that you do it that makes the difference. No one complains about Elmore Leonard’s interior monologues.

    In your case, there was no cheating involved . . . just a good read.

    And where would we be without William Faulkner, eh?

  2. Robin Slick says:

    What a small world, John. Richard and I are friends and of course I have read Careful!…your review is quite wonderful and accurate.

    So getting back to my original statement: Is the world really that small? Holy cow…

    jb says: Hi Robin, Yeah, the world is really really small. Who else do you know?

  3. Robin Slick says:

    Ha! I manage to know everyone I want to know, that’s for sure…or I find a way to meet them. Alas I never met John Lennon or JD Salinger, both of whom have had a profound effect/influence on my life.

    But yeah, when it comes to authors, musicians, etc….you could say I’m “with the band”.

    Anyone you’d like to meet, John? I’ll see if I can set it up.


    jb says: I feel like I’ve already missed the boat on this one. People who come to mind immediately, like say, Faulkner or Janis Joplin have already moved into different spaces. And then I wonder if I would have really enjoyed meeting them anyway. It was what they did, their achievements, rather than the people themselves who made their mark on me. And I have a profound distrust and dislike of celebrity culture. If I’m going to spend time with someone I need to know that I’m meeting someone; I don’t want to spend time with a myth. So maybe, like you, I make sure that I meet the people I want to know, and either I’ve already done it or am in the process of doing it.

    But thanks for the offer. I don’t want to seem ungrateful . . .

  4. Robin Slick says:

    You’re very wise.

    Truth be known, I’ve been disappointed in most celebrities I’ve met, though of course that could be my own discomfort as well. This is why I prefer communication via the internet these days as opposed to real world meetings…and I suspect I’ll be needing a twelve step program for that eventually, huh.

    jb says: I’m only very wise occasionally, and then it’s a short-lived experience, evaporating well before I have chance to savour it. Celebrity can only be maintained at the expense of identity, I suppose, which is what leads to feelings of disappointment when we come face to face with it. The ego senses a hollowness behind the mask and begins to howl.

    As for the twelve-step programme, I can’t see you needing that at all. We’ll keep it for those who get drunk on celebrity.

  5. […] Richard Madelin sent me the link to this interview with Cormac McCarthy, from Rolling Stone, as reproduced on David […]