Book Review: The Escapist by David Puretz

The Escapist – David Puretz (Global City Press, 2020)

I received an Advance Reader’s Edition of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own. The Escapist has a release date of January 28, 2020.

Billy Chute is a young man in his early twenties who has recently left behind his home and job and taken to the road with his beat-up car, a sleeping bag, and a cooler full of pills. He is, ostensibly, looking for his missing father but, as we quickly come to realize, he’s equally running away from himself.

Before Billy left his last place of work, someone told him that he should write his thoughts down. So the action of the novel is spliced with entries from Billy’s journal, written in the second person. Here we begin to understand the level of abuse and abandonment that have characterized Billy’s existence his whole life. The journal increases in importance as Billy’s story progresses, almost taking on the status of another character.

Billy’s search for his father takes him first to his own family – his uncle, his grandmother, his brother – and we see the levels of disconnect that exist in this clan. As Billy travels further we witness him become more adrift and his reliance on drugs, apparent from the beginning of the novel, seems to become increasingly unhinged. Billy isn’t just your average twenty-something stoner, he has elaborate plans for his drugs, complicated dosages that he works out on post-it notes (the book includes images of his post-its and chemical compounds which is kind of an interesting touch). Billy is a clear victim of the 21st century American opioid crisis. He’s been overprescribed his entire life and, as he says himself, he’s never truly been clean. He’s both a victim and a perpetrator in his own life.

Billy is not a likeable character. But he isn’t supposed to be. I never could quite make myself root for him and he continues to make bad decisions throughout the book. But Puretz writes him in painful realism and the action of the novel is so consistent that I kept reading because I wanted to find out what happened next. The road trip format means that we follow Billy through several American cities and offers a glimpse of everything from the War on Drugs in the US to the Occupy Wall Street movement in New York to the end of the Iraq War and its effects on veterans.

This is Puretz’s first novel and it shows a few flaws; I was satisfied with the ending, which leaves Billy’s story open, but there were still a few loose ends, including characters who probably could have been left out entirely. Characters seem to dip in and then completely out of Billy’s life without any warning. And there’s an overly long description of a stranger in a restaurant eating pizza. All told though, this is a strong debut and Puretz clearly has an interesting take on modern American society.

8 thoughts on “Book Review: The Escapist by David Puretz”

  1. Your description of not liking this character, him making so many bad choices, and wanting to see where he goes next is like 80% of why I read all five books in Irvine Welsh’s Trainspotting series. Horrible people, just awful. The other 20% is for how funny the characters are.

    1. I’ve only seen the Trainspotting movie but that’s probably a fair comparison! He is 100% the kind of guy I would avoid in real life/do my best to keep a friend from dating but he was entertaining to read about.

  2. While there’s no doubt the opioid crisis is an important story that deserves to be told, I fear I have as much antipathy towards books about addiction as I have to the drugs themselves. I’m glad you felt the author showed promise though and I’ll be looking forward to see if the subject matter of his next book appeals more to me…

    1. It can be hard to be sympathetic with a character who makes so many poor decisions and whose trouble is so much of his own causing. I think the author did a good job of showing how the characters got into these situations and it did make Billy more sympathetic that he’d been fed drugs practically since childhood.

    2. Yes, I think that’s what makes opioid addiction so particularly tragic, that so many people became addicted legally and unknowingly in the first instance, whereas most other forms of addictive substances are ones we’re well aware of so it’s harder to sympathise with people who intentionally start using them.

  3. Sounds like a few of the problems you listed about this book is the case for many books being published these days-rambling unnecessary situations and characters!!! Far to common these days unfortunately haha

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