Review by Matt Larrimore
Baxter’s Friends is a literary novel by poet and author Ned Randle. Like many literary works the novel has multiple threads and meanings running through the work. Themes of friendship, identity, and self-worth found, in part, through self-sacrifice, are the strongest in this story. Many readers will appreciate how Randle carefully creates the world and most of the characters of the novel. However, the story would have benefited by a more straightforward, cohesive presentation of the central themes.
Baxter’s Friends has many strengths. The main characters, Baxter and Ferguson, are very well developed. They are real people who you could meet walking through the door of your local pub. Randle is at his best as he digs in and explores those characters’ psyches. Additionally, one of the most compelling characters seems to be from Baxter’s visions.
The fact that Randle is so successful at creating characters makes it a bit disappointing that he has chosen to leave his female characters so un-lifelike. Sadly, the females of the novel seem to be little more than emotional place holders for lust and fear.
The novel has an interesting plot that commands the reader’s attention. Randle’s acute attention to detail; carefully wrought, fluid prose; and vivid, sometimes even lurid, details help create a compelling story. The novel is also laced with what can only be described as a rough masculine sense of humor.
Through Baxter, Randle creates thrilling, engrossing visions, spinning his own mythology with the use of authentic Native American Indian images and symbols, which help signify the important value of self-sacrifice. However, he misses an opportunity to make connections from these visions to the larger plot of the novel; such an effort would have rounded the novel off nicely.
While Randle’s use of detail is what separates this novel from others; at times, it has been overdone. For example, an accountant who carries a journal is plausible, but when the same character drinks wine at a bowling alley; well, it seems a bit incongruent for this reader. A McGuffin is at play here.
With all the high points there are a few minor issues. The plot, while more than satisfactory, suffers because of the way Randle reveals the action in flashback fashion. When the novel’s big revelation arrives it has been so anticipated that it can be a bit anti-climactic for the reader. The novel’s use of multiple timelines could confuse some less-than-attentive readers, though generally it is engaging. There are also some technical issues. The use of multiple fonts while interesting, can be puzzling. Additionally, once or twice in the novel there are difficult shifts in tone. The beginning of chapter 21 is one such occasion.
Knowing that Randle is educated in the law, the reader might expect a Grisham-esque courtroom drama. None is forthcoming. While it is slightly flawed and imbued with many features of a literary novel, overall, Baxter’s Friends is entertaining and worth the reader’s time.
by Ned Randle