I was born too late to become a card-carrying member of the Elvis church, all I got was fat Elvis, Elvis shaking hands with Nixon, and Elvis pumping gas somewhere in northern Arkansas long after he died. I wasn’t one of those who was crying in the chapel when he died. Beyond the music, the other legacy Elvis left was impersonators.
But Nick Kolakowski’s A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps (Down & Out Books) is about Elvis impersonators as much as Citizen Kane is about a sleigh. When you do get to the Elvis part of A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps, I mean, holy fucking hell, just surrender: “A figure stepped through the haze, gleaming white. Bill thinking this must be some weirdass pain-dream, Elvis Presley coming for him in a spangly jumpsuit, assault rifle in each hand.” Kolakowski leaves nothing on the table, enjoyable so.
A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps opens with an unnamed hitman describing his new target’s upcoming worst day of his life.
At some point, a poor sap will look at you and say, “This is the worst day of my life.”
But as long as you have breath in your lungs to say those words, you’re not having your worst day. You haven’t even hit rock bottom, much less started to dig. You can still come back from a car wreck, or that terrifying shadow on your lung X-ray, or finding your wife in bed with the well-hung quarterback from the local high school. Sometimes all you need to solve your supposedly world-ending problems is time and care, or some cash, or a shovel and a couple of garbage bags.
If you see me coming, on the other hand, I guarantee you’re having your worst day. Not to mention your last.
Let me show you how bad it can get. How deep the hole goes. And the next time your idiot friend says something about worst days, as the two of you stand there watching his house burn down with his pets and one-of-a-kind porn collection inside, you can tell him this story. It might even shut him up.
Let me tell you about Bill, my last client.
Laughably, Bill thought he could rip off the mob and get away with it. A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps follows Bill on his weak-ass attempt of an escape from New York and the troubles he runs into.
Bill awoke, as one sometimes does, dangling upside-down over a pit, ankles wrapped in heavy chains, sweat stinging his eyes, head throbbing like a dying tooth. He heard a dog bark in the night, and the muted roar of what he guessed was the Interstate, but the only light came from a bare yellow bulb bolted to a corrugated-metal shed far below.
Circumstances frequently deteriorate in absurd fashion in A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps until, believably, Elvis arrives to save the day (or not). Kolakowski writes with wit painted in darkness and gunfire. Adeptly crafting a plot that borders on the incongruous, Kolakowski makes A Brutal Bunch of Heartbroken Saps crazily convincing. I’m definitely looking forward to the second in this series.