BPS Review of Rogues, Patrick Radden Keefe ( Nov 2023)
BPS review of Rogues, Patrick Radden Keefe ( November 2023)
I don’t think this book was what we were expecting. Whether or not you have already read any of PRK’s excellent investigative, non-fiction books, this series of extended essays somehow hit slightly off centre.
The essays were too long to really read comfortably in one sitting, being 17/18 pages rather than the usual 8-12 pages of a standard short story collection. Some of them felt dated, having been written as far back as 2007, but with no coda or update to acknowledge the intervening years. Did it feel a little lazy, like a money making exercise of his previously published magazine work? And some even took issue with the subjects and the book title, arguing that in some stories the protagonists were neither grifter, killer, rebel nor crook. Many readers started chronologically and wished that they had perhaps cherry picked more of the appealing ones.
Having said that, it is hard to say that there were clear winners or losers in the stories - whilst ‘Loaded Gun’ and ‘Worst of the Worst’ prompted a lot of discussion, several others were personal favourites based on subject matter and thought provoking content.
We did have some great debate on the strength of this book – on the role of women in a crime mobster’s life, on the crazy spending of a wine collector, on Donald Trump and reality TV, on defending the defenceless, and on the relationship between victim and perpetrator. All very engrossing subjects!
We did all* agree that his journalistic style is thorough and interesting, driven by a human curiosity. Just to clarify*, there were admissions that some found his style dense, difficult and … extremely soporific. More than one! Whilst his style is deliberately non-judgemental, some felt that he could have gone further with his own opinions or analysis, and also that we could in fact work out his opinion from the ‘grey areas’ of debate. But his writing style is very much at ‘arm’s length’ therefore holding back too much empathy and simply providing forensic levels of detail. Is this actually interesting, or just far too detailed?!
The learnings from this book are that it’s already hard to do a collection of stories for a book discussion and it’s particularly hard to plough through them all on a deadline! It’s definitely a book for dipping into at leisure when the mood takes you. Whether or not you enjoy these essays, Patrick Radden Keefe’s full length novels are universally recommended by anyone who has read them, so don’t let this put you off! And remember, if you love this style of writing, you can always subscribe to the New Yorker magazine where he’s a staff writer …