Things fall apart

BY TARAH CHILDES

Nathan Lucius is 31 years old. He lives in a flat in Tamboerskloof, Cape Town, he collects antique photographs which he uses to create his make-believe family tree, and he always sleeps with the light on. Why he does so is answered in the rest of Wasted, the new novel by Mark Winkler.

This is Winkler’s second novel, following An Exceptionally Simple Theory (of Absolutely Everything. It’s worlds — and not just suburbs — apart from its predecessor. Labelled a pop culture version of Crime and Punishment, Wasted is a meticulously crafted thriller-cum-trauma novel that explores broader themes of morality, responsibility, society and the human psyche.

Inspired by PostSecret, an American social project where members of the public submitted their most intimate secrets anonymously by postcard, Winkler set about creating a character with a similairly unfiltered, and stilted voice. The result is Nathan, our socially odd and unwholly formed protagonsist with a murky history that slowly emerges in piecemeal fashion as the novel progresses.

Nathan orbits a desaturated and gritty Cape Town alone and untethered, save for his surprisingly normal friendship with Madge, a faux-antique dealer suffering with terminal cancer; and a reluctant sexual relationship with with his neighbour, Mrs Du Toit. When Madge asks Nathan to end her suffering, he wants to help, but in so doing, begins to lose the very tenative grip he has on his insular world.

Time and events bend and blur under Winkler’s adept hand, the plot driven by the immediacy the terse sentence structure (free from conjunctions) creates. When the key revelations unfold, they are genuinely shocking in a forehead slapping kind of way, as we realise our noses were too closely pressed against the action to see the allusive pointers cleverly fragmented throughout the novel.

While we are not short of thrillers written by local ad men, or women, Winkler’s novel is satisfying clever, his character and plot pithy, elusive, sharp and captivating.

Wasted is published by Kwela.

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