Reviewed by Marie RavenSoul
Meet Flanagan, Elliot, Becky, Taylor, and Blake.
It is August 28, 1998, and Flanagan is woken up by his friend Elliot after having fallen asleep in the back seat of the car. They stop at a restaurant for coffee and discuss their plans as they head back to their small-town childhood home. After being away for ten years, they are returning for their high school reunion. Flanagan admits to wanting to visit Alison, the woman he has always loved but could never have. He mentions the dream. Elliot freaks out and tells him to never mention it again.
As the story moves forward, Flanagan describes what it was like when he was young. When he mentions the “Black Flag tape that was eating the stereo from the inside,” I was reminded of my teenage years when my favourite album would get stuck in the tiny mechanisms of my Walkman. I would try to unravel it only to have it rip in the end. Having disdain for teachers and cops, he believes they only want compliance and order. Taking the blame for his friends, he often got arrested and went to jail. Punk rock was his favourite kind of music, and then lifestyle choices led to alcohol abuse, sex, and drugs.
Education was of no interest to Flanagan, and all he wanted was to make his mark on the world, especially through his band, Crack Jester. He describes Elliot as a charming person who could say anything, and people would do what he asked of them. When he asked Flanagan about the old man on the beach, it riled him up, as it is the one thing they had agreed not to discuss.
When they arrive at their destination, Flanagan gets a hotel room and is surprised by a visit from Becky, a friend from years ago. The questions she asks make him think about the life he has chosen for himself. She resents that he left home and that he has become a successful punk rock star, but when he is alone in his room, he contemplates the perks to his career, such as the four-poster bed, Jacuzzis, and the complimentary champagne and he feels like a fraud. He takes the heroin out of his bag and prepares it. As he gives a detailed account of injecting the drug, I feel like I am there with him, cringing as the needle pierces his skin.
“Arranging a chair in front of the window so that I’d have a sea view, I tightened my belt into a tourniquet, sat down and pushed the needle in. The question of purity never even crossed my mind. Strength didn’t matter as long as the heroin hit my brain like an inbound freight train. Shit, even if I’d got a hot shot that would have been just fine with me. Over, finished, gone, done, out, without any hysteria. Pushing the plunger is part of the thrill, almost a lucky dip, you don’t know what you’re going to get and for a brief moment you’re aware of the boundary that stands between control and pleasure.” Pp 54
He returns to the cave. Taylor, who is now a police officer, steps out of the shadows and brings the past back to life. The two exchange a few words, and the tension between the old friends is palpable. A deed that they participated in as teenagers, along with the others, drove them apart, yet it will bind them together for the rest of their lives.
Flanagan calls his manager and makes a career decision that affects Elliot. Then he gives away an item that has been an important part of his life for the past ten years. He knows that if he wants to make greater achievements, he must leave the past behind. This manner of thinking is tested at the reunion, as he is tempted by something that he has always wanted and must decide if he will partake.
My favourite character is Flanagan. From the beginning, I was drawn into his mind. He was rough on the edges, and even though I felt sympathy for him most of the time, I wanted to throttle him for getting into certain situations and for bending his Will to Elliot’s. I like how he was never afraid to speak his mind and learned that being true to himself was crucial to being happy and successful.
Cundle has a great way with words. He is not afraid to deal with difficult topics such as cocaine and heroin use, pornography, violence, and unprotected sex. He uses description well so that the story comes alive, and the reader can picture what is happening. The dialogue is fast-paced and moves the story along, each character having a unique voice that the reader can identify. The story is told from Flanagan’s point of view and is very conversational as if he is in the room talking to you face to face.
I enjoyed Compression very much. I had to keep reading as there was always a hint that something major was about to happen. If you like thrillers and intense character-driven stories, then this book might be of interest.
Tim Cundle was born in Liverpool and is the creator of Mass Movement, a music and lifestyle fanzine. He has been a part of the road crew and a guitar technician for various punk bands in Canada and the United States.