The Massive (The Kills: Book Two)
A Novel by Richard House
2013 / 311 Pages
I shoulda learned to play the guitar
The Kills is a 2013 Man Booker Prize nominated volume from Richard House which is comprised of four stand-alone novels. The Massive is the second of these novels.
It would be bad enough if the only problem facing Rem Gunnersen with regards to his self-owned and operated business was that of financial ruin. Yes, he’s drowning in debt. Yes, he’s desperate for money. Yes, he’s staring the very real possibility of bankruptcy in the face. Problems of cash flow, difficult as they can be, are fixable in a multitude of ways. Having to recover from any damage done to his professional reputation however is something that would prove to be a much more arduous task. At the start of The Massive, Rem finds himself in the unenviable position of having to deal with both issues, one as a direct consequence of the other.
It turns out that a longtime friend/employee has stolen property from the homes of several of Rem’s clients. Feeling a moral obligation to pay for that which has disappeared, Rem’s wallet quickly begins to lighten. His good deed won’t go unpunished. For even as he tries to do the right thing and make amends, he finds himself fighting a losing battle against the irreparable damage done to his name. As hard as he’s worked to contain it, word of the transgressions has spread like wildfire and as a direct result his business is drying up. Rem knows that he’s paying for the stolen items with money he can’t afford to spend.
Enter Paul Geezler.
Geezler, as you’ll no doubt remember from Sutler (book one of The Kills), is the Advisor to the Division Chief, Europe, for HOSCO International. HOSCO is a ginormous Haliburton-esqe conglomerate that holds various contracts with the American government for work in the Middle East. It was Geezler who hired John Jacob Ford and had him pose as Richard Lawrence Sutler in order to embezzle 53 million dollars from the company. Before he could even hope to make that daring scheme a reality however, Geezler needed first-hand, intimate knowledge of how all facets of HOSCO’s recruitment and training practices for the Middle East worked. He needed someone to walk through the process from start (filling out forms, meeting recruiters) to finish (deployment oversees) and continually report all of the details back to him. He needed to find someone that would never be suspected as a spy, someone who was down on their luck and desperate, someone to whom the potential to earn a significant amount of money quickly would make the prospect of signing a contract and shipping off to Iraq for six weeks of work appear well worth the risk.
He needed a sucker. Rem Gunnersen fit the bill perfectly.
In this regard much of The Massive serves as a prequel to the events that transpired in Sutler. Ford and Gunnersen are two of the human pawns in Paul Geezler’s epic chess match designed to defraud HOSCO and the US government. The pair comes to find their fates intimately linked and intertwined with one another without either ever fully understanding how or why. The stories of these two men couldn’t be more different from one another, yet they’re both extremely effulgent in their own way.
If Sutler was all about a man on the run, then The Massive is about one that’s desperate to stand still. Rem Gunnersen isn’t seeking a big payday simply for the pleasures involved with being rich. He wants nothing more than to live a simple, unassuming life, but circumstances have forced him to play someone else’s game without ever being given the opportunity to absorb the rules that define it or a chance to comprehend just what’s at stake for the both the ultimate winner and the broken losers. Rem Gunnersen is about to be taught the painful lesson that there is no such thing as easy money.
Running parallel to Rem’s tale is that of his wife Cathy. Living alone back home in the States and stressed to the max, she eventually finds strength in her decision to join an online support group for family members of those working in Iraq, but the closer she inches to the truth of what her husband and his team are being exposed to, the larger the target on her back becomes.
With The Massive Richard House introduces us to the very real, very human side of the war on terror as he eloquently and intelligently searches for meaning and truth in the most unlikely of places. Along the way he challenges the reader with some very difficult questions: Is the feeling of control merely an illusion? Is the willingness to believe in something so strongly nothing more than a weakness that’s waiting to be exploited for someone else’s personal gain? Can one person ever really make a difference? What is the true definition of the word terrorism?
There are no easy answers to be found, but accompanying House as he digs through a striking landscape that’s littered with fragile, fractured human beings all struggling to find their place in the world is a most worthwhile endeavor.