LOVE YOU TO A PULP
BY C.S. DeWILDT
All Due Respect, 2014
by Hector Duarte Jr.
Hector Duarte Jr.
Hector Duarte Jr. is a writer out of Miami, Florida. To keep himself financially stable, he teaches English to seventh graders. To keep himself mentally stable, he reads, and writes as many stories as he can. His work has appeared in Bewildering Stories, Flash: The International Short Story Magazine, Sliver of Stone, Foliate Oak, Flash Fiction Offensive, Shotgun Honey, Rockwell’s Camera Phone, Near to the Knuckle, Shadows and Light: An Anthology to Benefit Women’s Aid UK and The Whimsical Project. He loves his cat, Felina, very much.
June 25, 2015
Neil Chambers is not Sam Spade. This isn’t a whiskey swilling, cigarette rolling private dick. In fact, “Neil Chambers couldn’t help it. It was one of those dirty little habits that had followed him his entire life.” The dirty little habit is huffing glue. In the opening scene he is doing it while waiting to enter the apartment complex of his latest client: local pharmacist Jenkins whose daughter has gone missing.
Chambers isn’t a detective, per se; more an enforcer for the types of clients who veer from the legitimate path. In the end, he is whatever anyone needs him to be because he needs a fix. When Jenkins opens the front door to greet Chambers, however, his face is tuned like a harp. His daughter Helen and her boyfriend Hoon rushed the man, beat him to a pulp, and took off with enough Oxycontin to sedate an entire professional sports league.
Jenkins asks Chambers to locate his daughter and bring her back. If he can throw in a slightly severe beating for Hoon, all the better. That’s when our boy “...hit the road with an explosion of chassis sparks, tires screaming through three gears as he tore ass to wherever this was going.”
It’s this type of high octane energy that tears through DeWildt’s present day narrative scorching through turns and twists that leave the reader rocketing through the plot at 125 MPH, clutching the hand brake. Love you to a Pulp is not a glimpse into a world many of us are unfamiliar with, like, say, a Hollywood production studio. The reader is thrust into south-central Kentucky, into a small-town sensibility where moral ambiguity has long been blurred and childhood errors and subsequent feuds still have the potential to haunt citizens until they end up under the same fate as Hoon: hanging from the rafters, noose tight around his neck. Chambers suspects from the start it’s a murder and off he sets on an odyssey no one will recover from.
DeWildt nimbly balances the action between past and present. The past does not offer any sort of respite from the intensity of Chambers’s present. These are not, by any means, “breather” chapters. In the first glimpse we get of a domestic life, Chambers’s father sits on his recliner, cradling a shotgun while a couple of men make their way to a back room to have a go at Neil’s prostitute mother. This slow-moving image is the catalyst to a dark narrative of Chambers’s upbringing, which includes bare-knuckle boxing matches, a tick-riddled dog, and an unplanned pregnancy; all of which haunt his present day.
Drug addicted characters can be predictable in that we know, inevitably, they will fall. Chambers falls plenty but still manages to weave his way through the murky mystery of Hoon’s death. Although capable and tough, he is not an easy character to like; a scene involving the aforementioned tick-riddled dog comes to mind. Perhaps this polarizing effect is the point. The real world does not operate by simple black and white distinctions. By extension, neither does the crime fiction world. When we find the answers we seek, sometimes they don’t please us. Just as resolutions do not always equate to closure.
Love You to a Pulp is quick and punchy, reminiscent of a James M. Cain noir. DeWildt makes no bones about taking readers to the darkest Kentucky woods and dropping them there for a spell. By the end, he pulls you in just enough to see the lights of town but the walk back is still dark and lonely.