The Check Outby Published 06 Aug 2013
|The Check Out.pdf|
WINNER 2014 TELEVISION, INTERNET, AND VIDEO ASSOCIATION PEER AWARD FOR BOOK NARRATION, MALE
NOMINEE 2014 SOUTHERN INDEPENDENT BOOKSELLERS AWARD
Failing grocery store manager Larry Prescott just wants a quickie. With a frigid wife waiting at home, Larry decides to have some extramarital fun with an employee named Maxine Watkins. Though he has no way of knowing it, Larry is sowing the seeds for a crime spree that will be dubbed “The MegaSaver Massacre.“
The Check Out is a satirical thriller that will appeal to fans of Carl Hiaasen and Christopher Moore. It is the story of a $10,000 giveaway, and the employees who independently decide to heist the money on the same night. An ensemble piece, each chapter focuses on the motivations and actions of a different main character. Larry Prescott is an arrogant drunk whose affair quickly spirals towards danger. Maxine Watkins is a scheming liar, determined to claw her way out of indigence. Terrence Claybrook, the assistant manager, is an escaped convict trying to keep his past from catching up to him. Roland Tillman, a blood thirsty fugitive, reunites with his former cellmate during the MegaSaver robbery. Brad, an addiction ridden stocker, tries to turn his life around while picking up the pieces of a broken marriage. They each see the prize money as their only lifeline, and are determined to do everything necessary to grab it.
"The Check Out" Reviews
If you like stories with people you can relate to, as well as horrible people, crazy situations, big time karma payback, hilarious hijinks, general laugh-out loud craziness, loads of swearing all culminating in a [spoilers removed]- this is the book for you!
Seriously, this is a fast-paced book with many varied characters that are fully fleshed out. Everyone has a complete backstory that gives insight into their motivations. Books have a hard time making me laugh-out loud, but this one achieved that sought after feat multiple times. The ending wrapped everything up nice & tidy, but completely believably.
This is a fantastic debut from a novelist I really look forward to reading more from.
I really liked this book. It was a riot. Everyone was trying to steal the money. It was the funniest thing I have read in a long time.
This is not the type of fiction that I'm normally drawn to. However as the story unfolded through the characters, I found that I was so excited to find out how things ended. The author is a master at pacing and at letting the action play out through the daily routines of his not-so-likeable players. What at first seems a leisurely slog through their sometimes gritty, sometimes sad, totally realistic lives, then becomes a much-anticipated denouement that doesn't disappoint!
Richard Lester’s debut novel, The Check Out, is a gritty tale of life lived on the lower rungs of the socio-economic ladder and the attendant desperation that sometimes drives people to do anything and everything, up to and including murder, to try to better their situation.
Lester’s story is set in the once pristine and manicured white and now rundown and crumbling black section of an unnamed American city that feels like Detroit but could be anywhere in the country these days, although the fictitious WTMC news crew in the prologue places the locale as somewhere east of the Mississippi.
The plot involves a $10,000 giveaway at a MegaSaver supermarket and the employees who independently scheme to heist the money on the same night. There’s plenty of murder in Lester’s story but it serves only one person any good purpose, which is to slip back into an assumed identity and get on with his life.
Lester’s book is described as a “satirical thriller” and, indeed, most of his characters are portrayed as caricatures: Larry Prescott, the bellicose store manager and an arrogant drunk whose affair quickly spirals towards danger; Maxine Watkins a scheming liar who is determined to claw her way out of indigence; Terrence Claybrook, the assistant manager, an escaped convict who is trying to keep his past from catching up with him; Roland Tillman, a bloodthirsty fugitive who reunites with his former cellmate during the MegaSaver robbery; Brad, an addiction-ridden stocker who is trying to turn his life around while picking up the pieces of a broken marriage.
Not all of Lester’s characters are caricatures, though, and Leonard Best is a perfect example. Best is an elderly black man, a retiree and widower who dearly loved and misses his wife, with whom he owned a market for many years before being forced to quit the business. He seeks employment at MegaSaver to make extra money to pay off his debts and is hired as a janitor whose principal duty is mopping up after clumsy customers. There is nothing at all satirical in Lester’s portrayal of Best. He presents him as an honest, humble, hard-working man, wearied and bent by life but not broken and still strong and resolute. From the moment Best was introduced in the story my interest increased and I welcomed his every reappearance.
Lester portrays Terrence Claybrook, a young black man who bonds with Leonard Best, with the same sensitivity and depth and I wish his other characters had been treated the same way.
Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy reading the story. I did. It’s a quick read and a fast-paced one, a mixture of pulp fiction and Greek tragedy and more so the former than the latter. Lester’s characters would be right at home in a Tarantino movie and the denouement seems written in homage to the filmmaker.
Lester is unquestionably a talented writer and overall the quality of the writing is good but the book does have its problems. Here are a few:
The Check Out begins with a prologue that foreshadows events. All well and good; however, at book’s end I felt that Lester could have served the reader better without it and for two reasons: first, since the fact that a massacre will occur at the store is given away in the book synopsis the prologue really serves no useful purpose; and, second, I assumed that the aging and washed up TV reporter in the prologue would play a part in the story and was perplexed when he never reappeared.
Lester has structured his book like an action pic, weaving the story strands together by quick cutting between them. While this technique, if done well, can feel seamless as it propels the story forward, Lester cuts a bit too finely, chopping the strands into such small segments that I found myself wrenched away from scenes only to return to them just a few pages later (chapters in the book are very short). As a reader I was able to overcome this by mentally piecing together the disconnected strands but it would have been a better, more fluid reading experience had I been spared having to do so. I encourage the author to have more confidence in staying with his characters and allowing their stories to develop more fully in future.
A few observations about Lester’s writing style:
His word choice when describing things is curious at times; i.e., “Terrence cracked the mop handle down on the man’s face with rancor,” and, “Aside from himself, the bar was nearly desolate.”
He also has a tendency toward hyperbole; i.e., “The driver’s voice raised several octaves,” and, “The hotel door burst open with a force more powerful than a gun shot.”
The writing is also not without cliché; i.e., “Larry stared daggers at his wife.”
These criticisms aside, Lester is able to write compellingly and movingly and does so for the most part in the book. A satirical thriller though The Check Out might be, the dire circumstances of Lester’s characters’ lives and their anguish about and fear of being hopelessly trapped comes through. I commend the author for having given voice to people whose voices often go unheard and whose plight often goes unnoticed and encourage him to continue to hone and refine his craft.
I look forward to reading more from Richard Lester in future.
My original The Check Out audiobook review and many others can be found at Audiobook Reviewer.
Larry is the angry manager of the failing super store he used to own. He and a ragtag group of misfits separately plot to steal $10,000 in prize money. Each has a different plan, all of which are poorly devised and likely to end it flames.
There is a lot to like about The Check Out as long as you take the story as a farce. Most of the characters are bungling idiots who would be fired on their first day on the job. It is inconceivable that Larry, for example, could drink constantly on the job, swear at his corporate employers, show up late, leave early, steal from the nightly deposit and still keep his job. On the other hand, he is deliciously nasty, an amalgam of all the awful bosses each of us have had and love to hate. The corporate marketing wizard is a yoga and meditation fanatic who guzzles sodas and junk food. The contradictions and hypocrisy are mostly funny and fully of irony.
The mood of the novel is airy and light-hearted, even though the language and graphic sex scenes are not. The characters are cartoon figures caught in the bright like of reality, with no concept of how to run their own lives, let alone a multi-million dollar super store. The plot is simple, get through your immediate crisis by stealing a bit of money, without worrying about how to fix the real problems driving your life into the ground.
The story is read by Steve Ember. His beautiful baritone seems to have a smile throughout. Though he reads a bit slow for this listener’s taste, he does an excellent job of character voices and keeping who’s who straight. There is a folksy quality to the narration that adds a light-heartedness to what might be a bleak tale.
The Check Out has some flaws, such as well-developed characters without purpose in the story, but taken in its entirety is an enjoyable farce. It is a gang of idiots doing everything they can to make a bad situation worse.
Warning: Graphic sex scenes and extreme language. Probably not appropriate for teenagers (like an R rated movie).
Audiobook provided for review by the author.