Having previously read The Book Thief, I should have suspected that Markus Zusak is not a straightforward novel writer. Yet the conclusion of I Am The Messenger (Knopf, 2005) still came as a surprise to me.
Ed Kennedy is a nineteen-year-old cabdriver. He’s from the rough side of town and he’s on the right track to go nowhere in life. He plays cards with his friends Marv, Ritchie, and Audrey (who he’s in love with) and he hangs out with his smelly dog, The Doorman. He’s about to be another nobody in a town full of nobodies.
The novel begins in the middle of a bank robbery which Ed, almost inadvertently, foils. He has a brief stint of local fame, testifies in court, and goes back to his mediocre life.
Except, someone’s taken notice of Ed now. A playing card, an ace, arrives at Ed’s door; a cryptic message that sets Ed on a mission. He doesn’t know who wants him to deliver these messages or why, only that he has to. And that being the messenger is quickly changing his life.
I loved the creativity of this novel. Ed’s missions are each unique. Some are funny, some are horrifying, some are lovely, and some are frustrating. Almost all are reminders that the smallest action might change a life.
The language of the novel is great, particularly the dialogue between Ed and his friends. Their voices evoke the low income backgrounds they come from and seem to be trapped in. It’s a unique dialect that grounds the novel in reality
The mystery of what the next message will be and who is behind them pushes the action forward well and Zusak does a terrific job of maintaining that tension throughout.
There is, however, a particular style he uses through the novel that started to drive me crazy. Short sentences, lots of paragraph breaks, lots of repetition. Since the story is told from Ed’s point of view, perhaps it was an attempt to show his thought process.
To get inside his head.
Show how a guy like Ed thinks.
See how this works?
Doesn’t it get annoying?
It reminds me of sensationalist magazine articles and it felt overly dramatic and like a space-filler in a book that is really not that long. Zusak is a better writer than that.
And the ending. At first, I was only surprised and, truth be told, a little impressed at the statement Zusak makes with his conclusion. But the more I thought about it, the more annoyed I grew and the more it felt like a cop-out. (“It was all a dream!” That kind of cop-out, although that is obviously not the ending.) The more I wanted the novel to end before Ed returns to his house that final time. I wanted the novel to finish on its own terms, true to its own world and that’s not the ending Zusak gives.
Nevertheless, it does offer plenty to think about and that’s a good thing in any story.