Meeting Evil

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

Weary of being read as a literary comedian, Thomas Berger has written his most blackly humorous fiction—no mean achievement, given his version of the history of the American West in LITTLE BIG MAN and his retelling of the Orestes myth in ORRIE’S STORY. In MEETING EVIL, humor and horror are inextricably bound to each other in much the same way that the two main characters, strangers at first, become by novel’s end brothers of a sort in a deadly, and deadly funny, game of sibling rivalry. Hapless and helpless, John Felton, husband and father of two young children, is perfectly cast for the role of fall guy. A real estate salesman trapped in a slumping market, John is respectable, responsible, rational, principled, and kind, and so of course ready to help the stranger who rings his doorbell one fateful Monday morning, needing a push to start his car. John may be ready, but he is hardly prepared—not for someone like Richie, who will do more than just test John’s trust, tolerance, and capacity for putting the best face on even the worst situations. The push will lead to a ride and eventually a day-long spree of escalating mayhem and murder.

Richie seems a character out of hell by way of Joseph Conrad’s HEART OF DARKNESS, Norman Mailer’s EXECUTIONER’S SONG, Truman Capote’s IN COLD BLOOD, John Cheever’s BULLET PARK, and Berger’s NEIGHBORS and THE FEUD, inserted into a story that follows the inexorable logic of Kafka’s THE TRIAL but...

(The entire section is 482 words.)