(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Joe Connelly’s first novel, Bringing Out the Dead (1998), was an intense tour de force about an ambulance worker whose life was spiraling out of control; the novel gained great praise for its voice, imagery, and authenticity. Crumbtown, however, is a satirical romp that represents a complete departure from Bringing Out the Dead.

As a young man growing up in a seedy section of Dodgeport colloquially called Crumbtown, Don Reedy can steal any car that he can touch, not because he wants to sell them but as a diversion from his lackluster life. Don’s escapades go awry again and again: he falls asleep driving one stolen car and hits a parked policeman, and a sexual liaison in another results in a wreck. While stealing cars in a more subtle fashion for the local mob, he gets caught because of an infatuation with a waitress. His last arrest comes after he and two slightly deranged twins, Tim and Tom, rob a bank. Don throws the money away to bystanders and becomes a legend, but the twins desert him and Don spends the next ten years behind bars.

Then down on his luck Hollywood writer Rob Landetta happens into a Crumbtown bar in pursuit of the lovely Russian immigrant, Rita. There, he meets Tom and Tim and hears Don’s story. Before long, a full-scale television series is in the making, and Don is released on parole to serve as a technical advisor. The television series grows more and more surreal as fading actresses and former child stars are brought aboard, even as a corrupt police officer tries to convince Don to kill his former partners. Before long Don’s only chance to salvage his vanishing dignity is to mount a heist of the show itself.

Despite Crumbtown’s biting send-up of Hollywood falseness and duplicity, the novel ultimately falls short of Connelly’s first; the voice and focus that drive Bringing Out the Dead are nowhere to be found in Crumbtown.