In his imaginative debut, MY NAME IS RUSSELL FINK, Michael Snyder pens the occasionally tangential story of a 26-year-old Nashville copier salesman who can’t seem to get his life together.
It’s a quirky and engaging read. Russell Fink is a budding artist who still lives at home with his parents and seems stuck in his career and his relationships. His family has its own troubles: Mom hits the bottle at the first sign of tension, while dad, a miracle-working evangelist with a checkered past, auditions for a possible television gig. Russell’s older brother Peter has a slew of things going on as well: He runs a coffee shop, always seems to be short on cash, is paranoid about being followed, and carries a notebook to record his memoirs of growing up in an oddball Christian family. His disappearance (and apparent kidnapping --- or is it?) is only one of the many plot threads in the story.
Russell wrestles with guilt over everything from the death of his twin sister Katie from leukemia at a young age to his own inability to get a grip on what’s important. Complicating things is his fiancée, Alyssa, an actress who is (she believes) on the cusp of the big time and who stages protests at the local and cutely named “As a Jaybird” strip club to try to get media attention. For two people supposedly in love, the relationship seems…well, dysfunctional might be too kind.
At work, Russell charms the boss at Hengle’s Supply even as he repeatedly misses days at his desk. But when the boss’s son takes the company helm, it appears Russell’s life as a copier salesman is about to end. And when his beloved basset hound Sonny is inexplicably murdered, it catapults Russell into a series of events that will jar him from his lethargy and help him begin to make sense out of his life, his calling and his faith.
Snyder’s characters are an interesting but strange group --- from Dan, the eccentric tekkie who takes Russell on as a roommate, to Geri, the down-to-earth girl with a talent for making unusual clothing. If there’s any criticism of the novel, it might be a tendency toward too many unusual character quirks (a little goes a long way) and a lot of different storylines going on. But somehow, the author manages to hold everything together and keep the story moving.
Snyder portrays Russell’s continual blunders as both exasperating and endearing --- and they are. Russell’s relationships with his family members provide glimpses into how he became the person he is at 26. But can he learn from his past to change his future? One of the best “aside” moments in the book comes when Russell forges an unlikely connection with an ill and bitter neighbor, and renders an act of kindness. No matter what the relationship between characters, there are always enough zany elements to keep things just slightly off-kilter.
Chick-lit fans will enjoy the romance elements between Russell and Alyssa and Russell and Geri, as dysfunctional as both relationships are. Readers will see Russell’s long-time crush on Geri long before Russell recognizes it; however, Geri has a secret that may change the nature of their relationship. How this is resolved helps provide a happy ending to the story.
Zondervan has included some fun extras with the book, including a tongue-in-cheek reader’s guide (“What kind of name is Russell Fink, anyway?”), an interview with the author, deleted scenes, back cover endorsements from his characters (from Alyssa: “He’s not a particularly good kisser”) and excerpts from his forthcoming sophomore offering, RETURN POLICY, due out in December. In the interview, Snyder acknowledges he began writing the novel by penning a series of short stories, which explains much about the tangential plot lines.
Faith readers will appreciate that Snyder includes themes of grace, forgiveness (especially of ourselves), vocation and calling, and the nature of miracles throughout the novel. Audiences will come away with plenty of smiles and look forward to Snyder’s next outing, which promises to be a good one.
Reviewed by Cindy Crosby on March 1, 2008