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.