Michael Missing, the violent, lout-fetishist con-man antihero of these 11 linked stories may be the nastiest fictional figure this side of Bret Easton Ellis. He hates his mom, lusts after his sister and thinks nothing of crushing a stranger's skull with a baseball bat. If books were rated, this one would get an X for language alone.
But to lump these stories with other nihilistic young authors' fiction is to do a disservice to Hickins, who has more than shock value in mind. Beneath the violence are wise—and wryly funny—tales of survival. "In my sleep," Hick-ins writes, "my dreams were still a kid's. Awake, it was a question of control, hiding what I felt, and never feeling afraid. Anybody can be an adult."
For all his conning and grifting, Missing knows a few things about life: "I had...Tranquila's necklace as a reminder of that scarce emotion, sentiment" and about himself: "At least now I won't have to tell her the truth about my job. And that I have never sung with the boys. And that I have never held a friend to comfort his grief. And that I have never overheard someone say, 'Michael is a real good guy.' "
For some readers, the beauty of such images as "I wanted to stifle my old girlfriend to death with the thick yarn of my voice," will not mitigate lurid rapes and murders. But they may, at least, provoke interest in this first-time New York City—born author's next move. (Knopf, $18)