I was very eager to pick up Negative Space by Mike Robinson as the first book in this series (Green Eyed Monster) was the very first book I ever reviewed on this blog. That also means I haven’t been in this world since 2012 which would be disconcerting but there is something so wonderful about a nonlinear series like this. You get to see hints and moments of the other books without feeling lost if you haven’t read them.
Max Higgins, a provocative Los Angeles painter is on the verge of local fame. The secret to his work’s haunting allure? He collects photos of missing persons and incorporates them into his paintings, giving the often melancholy faces, as he puts it, a “home in his work.”
This fascination stems from the bizarre disappearances of people he knew growing up, including his father. Then, one day, someone recognizes a face in one of his paintings, and he is suddenly thrust into a journey as surreal as anything given life by his brush, a journey that will take Max into his past and will irrevocably set his future.
Cliffnotes version: This story follows several characters: Max, Karen, Dwayne, Charles, and James on their journeys through Los Angeles during the Rodney King Trial and the less than glamorous world of art in the 1990s.
Max, our protagonist, is a damaged artist with a dark past who teams up with a dominatrix and a conspiracy theorist to find his father all the while finding inspiration in missing persons pictures. If I used that sentence to describe any other book it would sound ridiculous but because it’s Mike Robinson, it makes perfect sense. This man always astounds me with his writing style.
I should offer a warning: Mike Robinson does not write casual books. These words are intentional and layered and sometimes incomprehensible but there is something so beautiful about them. These are stories that draw you in and make you think – force you to think.
A story about a painter encompasses this world that is so familiar – California – and yet suddenly becomes full of energy and new life. I love it. I always do. It’s nothing unexpected from Mike Robinson but I do think this is the most accessible of his books that I’ve read. I found myself sympathizing with one of the more negative characters because he felt the most human to me. We get to see into his mind and see his motivations – as twisted as they are – and they felt very realistic. Compare that to our protagonist or any of the supporting, positive characters who I sometimes lost. They had a lot of really heavy dialogue that came off as a little preachy. It’s deep, lengthy conversation which can’t be taken lightly. I kept thinking "who talks like this" but I know this story is about the concepts and ideas more than the people. But the first thing I want to connect with as a reader is the people.
I like Mike’s writing. It’s artistic, and lyrical, and it has this mysterious fantasy to it that I can’t describe. But this isn’t a story I connected to. I didn’t really care what happened to these characters – and a lot happened to these guys. We never stopped to take a break, I couldn’t tell what the climax was. There were so many loose ends, I didn't realize when the story was over. There were a lot of characters and plots that didn’t get any closure and I realized I didn’t really need it – the main story was over – but it felt very ambiguous.
My Random Notes While Reading are also a little ambiguous in an effort to be somewhat spoiler-free.
- I love the poetic and descriptive imagery
- Of course
- "Loaves" is the best word for this situation
- I am oddly enchanted by her open attitude
- Oh good: a controlling asshole
- Here we go
- No! I didn't want to like him
- Jesus Christ, I am so uncomfortable
- Heavy stuff, man
- That one word invokes so much imagery
- You encouraged him!
- Oh my god, you **********
This story is very image-based, Mike loves his descriptive language, and this is probably my favourite of his books so far. But I didn’t fall in love with these characters and I wish there was more to this story.
If you want to read for yourself, you can check out this Supernatural Thriller here