I have heard that short stories are more difficult to write than novels. The Cold Kiss is close to novella territory, and for good reason: first-time novelist John Rector knows how to say just enough and no more.
Nate (the narrator) and Sara are a young couple who are driving to Reno, low on funds and leaving behind their pasts in Minnesota. At a roadside tavern, they meet Syl, who is sick, stranded, and offers them $500 to drop him off in Omaha. Despite Nate’s misgivings, they accept the offer and head out, trying to get in front of a snow storm coming their way. No luck with that – they get caught in a blizzard and have to pull over to a small motel, where they find Syd dead in the back seat, with a suitcase filled with money.
Nate says “there were limits to what I’d do for money”, but that was when it was five hundred dollars. Now what are his limits?
For the first few chapters, I wasn’t sure if I liked this book. I don’t read much crime fiction, so perhaps the graphic, gory description of Sara’s grandfather coughing is not unusual for this genre. Also, how would Sara – “a few years from 21” – be mature enough to realize the implications of getting that much money?
I kept reading because I wanted to figure these people out, and at some point I forgot to nitpick. The story closed the door and turned off the lights. I wasn’t reading anymore – I was inside of the story, I forgot where I was, and it doesn’t get any better than that.
What really makes this book work is the visual imagery. Rector is very good at creating a vivid picture with a few deft strokes:
All around us, thin snakes of snow slid across the asphalt then dissolved under the car as we passed.
If you have ever driven in the snow, you know exactly what he is talking about. I could see the highway as though I was behind the wheel.
This book would make a great movie and it has been optioned, maybe because it has been compared to No Country for Old Men – man finds money, bad things happen, etc. A movie option doesn’t mean a movie will get made. I just hope that Rector got enough money to sit down and write a second novel. I can’t wait to see what he does next.