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BIG NUMBERS by Jack Getze

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By Theresa de Valence - Posted on 19 March 2007

BIG NUMBERS is a story about a deadbeat guy who hates his job, named Austin Carr, whose judgement becomes impaired by the smaller of his two heads, namely the one in his pants.

Awful things happen to Austin repeatedly, and still he keeps his salesman’s smile and dogged optimism; the story feels predictable, cringe-making, until kla-bam! there are twists … leading to other twists. Austin’s painful calamities become more fantastic as the story progresses. Surrealism did not lessen my interest in the story one whit. Somehow I then became convinced the protagonist would not only survive — he would triumph in some way. In several spots in BIG NUMBERS, the protagonist comes to realizations that are truly meaningful, beyond the range of the mystery story. And Austin gives us hope for other job haters and deadbeat dads.

One third of the way through the story, I took a break to cook lunch, giving me an opportunity to realize that I liked neither the protagonist nor the way the story was unfolding. At the time, I postulated that Austin was too much of a loser and the story reminded me of the slick, over-sexed tough guys of mystery stories from forty years ago. Lunch done, I continued reading BIG NUMBERS, and thoroughly enjoyed the book. The only reason I can reference my early criticism is because, in a time-out, I took a thermometer on my impressions. Having finished the story in one sitting (it was fun), I no longer feel the same way about Austin and have no idea why my opinion changed.

BIG NUMBERS is a beautiful example of a well-used Prologue. Not only does the prologue cast a shadow across subsequent events, but as hints are dropped into the story, I found myself wondering whether this new piece of information would relate back to the prologue. It was a stimulating experience and brought tension and extra interest to the story. When the event finally arrived, however, I found myself skipping over the text; the language was too repetitious of the prologue, and it was too long.

One of the nicest features of BIG NUMBERS is the way the author discards the current storyline, like removing the outer layer of a russian puzzle doll, to reveal the hidden agenda of another storyline inside. Again and again appears another matryoshka nesting doll painted in different colours; the good guys and the bad guys change places, and then everyone plays musical chairs to see who will survive. It’s really quite delightful.