According to Jonathan Lethem, Thomas Berger is “one of America’s three or four greatest living novelists.” I’d never heard of him when I added Meeting Evil to my tbr list, then shelf – where it languished for several years before I fnally got around to reading it.
Meeting Evil is the story of John Felton, a young real estate agent suffering through the downturn in the American economy. He’s married to Joanie, father to Melanie and Philip and his life is about to get very complicated. It’s Monday morning when his doorbell rings. Standing there is Richie, a young man of John’s general age. His car has stalled in front of John’s house and Richie asks for assistance. What begins as a an act of good samaritanisim, quickly devolves into a harrowing crime spree – with John along for the ride.
I’ve never read a book quite like Meeting Evil before. While sometimes John seemed ridiculously naive and stupid to me, the character of Richie is a creation of pure malevolence. He’s dangerous and unpredictable. Before John even knows what has happened, he’s part prisoner and part co-conspirator in Richie’s road trip from hell. Although John soon realizes the danger he is in, Richie turns out to be a master manipulator. At one point John even announces “We’re all in this together.” Try as he might to escape (and he does try) John’s day just keeps getting worse.
Berger is a masterful writer. The book has a propulsive energy and is often wickedly funny. It’s quite unlike anything I’ve read before and I look forward to reading the second Berger title on my tbr shelf, Best Friends.