This review was undertaken as part of a Blackthorn Book Tour. I would like to thank them for giving me this book in exchange for an honest review.
Well here is a truly wonderful hall of dark mirrors.
Sitting somewhere between The Great Gatsby and Doctor Faustus, Slow Down is a story of desperately flawed people, burning at terrible speed through a landscape of drugs and depravity, with barely a decent thought to share between them. It is set in some near-present in the privileged, entitled, drug-ridden world of the Hollywood film industry, where frauds and hangers on and ruthless ambitious wannabes jostle to rub shoulders with those who have “made it”, whilst those who have “made it” struggle to keep their precarious position at whatever human cost. There is no affection here. No loyalty, no fellow feeling. Decadent, drug-fueled parties are playgrounds for the powerful in which the weak are abused and discarded. What masquerades as friendship is merely a competitive dance of power and exploitation. Every exchange will have a winner and a loser. The losses may be severe – reputation, career, health, even life – but they are par for the course, and only the loser will care.
The cleverness of this story rests in the author’s consummate manipulation of his audience (or was it just me?) Noah, Goldberg’s quasi hero, is a repulsive character. He is young – still living at home with teenage siblings – but certainly no ingenu. Privileged, ruthless, ambitious, self-regarding: his relationships are cynical and instrumental; he is cruel to animals, to his brother, to an unwanted girlfriend. Even his elusive object of desire, a girl from schooldays now ravaged by drugs, is ultimately disposable. He declares to the reader his undying love, though it does not escape us that when this unappealing soulmate cries for help in the throes of an overdose, our hero switches off his cellphone and continues his date with a more useful contact. Goldberg cuts no corners in letting us know the depths of Noah’s moral bankruptcy, yet still he dares the reader to engage with him, identify with him, even want him to succeed. Personally, to my shame, I rose to the challenge. Don’t tell anyone, but this author has me firmly by my hair, so when he whispers that I should root for this monster, I dutifully do so.
Noah’s opposite number, Dominick, is possibly worse of course – a little older and further down the path to which Noah aspires – and he has lost the vestigial traces of conscience that occasionally trouble our hero. His psychopathic disregard is a little more polished. But Dominick is only an older face in the mirror: we never doubt how cynically Noah will destroy him, or how hungrily morph into his vices.
Everything in this book is a mirror of something else. Goldberg has hooked me before with a story within a story and he hooked me again this time. Dominick is a mirror of Noah. Actors play themselves, art mirroring life, life mirroring art. Everywhere the story is transected by the lenses of hidden cameras. And as with all mirrors, the depth of Noah’s life is an illusion. There is nothing but a flimsy surface that could shatter any moment.
At times, as I watched myself in some other inner mirror, being mesmerized by this Rake’s Progress, it struck me that I should not, really, be reading this book. It’s misogyny is chilling, its characters depraved, its moral compass points to the gutter. I wondered what stopped me from drawing back from the screen and pressing “delete”. It would have been easy enough and I certainly had other things to do. I could not have supposed that continuing this book was a creditable use of my time. Perhaps I felt virtuous satisfaction in the certainty that it would all end ill for Noah, and wanted to see it (good Christian people always love an edifying hanging). Or imagined (except I didn’t) that some desperate event would jolt him into repentance and redemption. But no. I don’t think so. Really, I think it was the exquisite writing that held my finger back from that virtuous little X at the top right corner of my screen, as the hours passed and the plot spiraled into nightmare and I still had no excuse. Goldberg’s prose is consistently well-judged and at times quite breathtaking. Throughout the book there were little turns of phrase so delicate and delicious that I sucked on them like candies. Unhealthy candies, some of them, but candies all the same.
I certainly cannot recommend this scandalous dark book to you. But if you read it, you may well enjoy it as much as I did.
Publisher’s information about the book
How far would you go to make your dreams come true? For budding writer and filmmaker Noah Spaeth, being a Production Assistant in director Dominick Bambach’s new avant-garde film isn’t enough. Neither is watching Dominick have an affair with the lead actress, the gorgeous but troubled Nevie Wyeth. For Noah’s dream is to get both the film and Nevie in the end, whatever the cost. And this obsession may soon become a reality once Dominick’s spurned wife Isadora reveals her femme fatale nature with a seductive plot to get rid of her husband for good. Slow Down, a cross between the noir styling of James M. Cain and the dark satire of Bret Easton Ellis, is a thrilling page-turner that holds a mirror up to a media-saturated society that is constantly searching for the fastest way to get ahead, regardless of consequences.
Amazon Link: Slow Down, by Lee Matthew Goldberg, published by New Pulp Press
About Lee Matthew Goldberg
Lee Matthew Goldberg is the author of the novels THE DESIRE CARD, THE MENTOR (reviewed on this blog earlie this year), and SLOW DOWN. He has been published in multiple languages and nominated for the 2018 Prix du Polar. The second book in the Desire Card series, PREY NO MORE, is forthcoming in 2020, along with his first Sci-Fi novel ORANGE CITY.
His new endeavor will be as the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Fringe Press and Fringe Digital, dedicated to publishing fiction that’s outside-of-the-box.
His pilots and screenplays have been finalists in Script Pipeline, Book Pipeline, Stage 32, We Screenplay, the New York Screenplay, Screencraft, and the Hollywood Screenplay contests. After graduating with an MFA from the New School, his writing has also appeared in the anthology DIRTY BOULEVARD, The Millions, Cagibi, The Montreal Review, The Adirondack Review, The New Plains Review, Underwood Press and others. He is the co-curator of The Guerrilla Lit Reading Series and lives in New York City.
Follow him at leematthewgoldberg.com.
The Hard Hat Book Site