Review - Man in the Corner, Nathan Besser
A lot of things happen to normal, everyday father, husband and businessman David in a big hurry. His wife confesses to a secret past which he can almost handle and then he collapses with a rare brain disorder requiring urgent surgery, forcing him into a period of recuperation. This leads to some rash business decisions and a chance meeting with a total stranger. From that meeting, David is led into a weird world of identity-theft and criminal behaviour, the likes of which you'd expect any sane, rational, normal person would run away from. But so much about MAN IN THE CORNER is off-kilter.
What is it about Ben Strbic that a seemingly normal man, granted recovering from a serious health scare, would allow himself to be seduced into extreme identity theft? What is it about David that would mean he can shrug off his wife's revelations, his own health scare, the craziness of an offer for his business that's blatantly wrong, and head to the dark side that Strbic's offering?
The scenario is fascinating in a car crash, oh no, kind of way, because it's well written. Evocative and absolutely involving, everything that David sees / believes and ends up doing either makes sense to the reader, or simply isn't questioned as you are pulled through the story. Of course it's easy to assume that somehow David's odd behaviour is as a result of his brain surgery, and part of the cleverness of the construction of this novel is that it's never overtly discussed or refuted, instead there are pointers and clues dotted throughout allowing the reader to draw their own conclusions, and revise them every step of the way.
In the current day, MAN IN THE CORNER is mostly the story of David and Ben's interactions. David's family are there in the background, and there are fleeting references to workers and other characters. Much stronger is the voice of the man that David is inhabiting. A sad, lonely man involved in engineering works, Green's voice is "heard" via the journals he wrote. He's a presence in this book because of his words, and because David starts out wanting to "emulate" him as part of assuming identity, and in the end develops a palpable sense of empathy and connection. The journals go from the words of a missing, timid man to that of somebody real and as much part of the narrative of this novel as the two living men.
The denouement makes sense, but somehow, possibly because there is so much grey, uncertain and unexplained in MAN IN THE CORNER, resolution become less important than the journey that got David and the reader to that point in the first place. An astounding debut novel, this was a most unusual, and very rewarding read.
Can you become someone else without the world noticing?
When David's wife confesses that she was once a prostitute, the revelation doesn't disturb him - he considers it simply an error of youth. But the following night David collapses from a rare brain disease and within a few months his world is turned upside down.
It was a perfectly acceptable life – successful business, happy marriage, two children. Why then has David involved himself in an identity-theft crime worth millions of dollars? Why is he taking instructions from the oddly eloquent, handsome criminal, Ben Strbic? David can't quite understand the sequence of events that has led him here, only that he must continue to the very end.
As the days and months progress, a scam that was meant to be straightforward becomes a perilous mystery unfolding in David's very own life.