During the first twenty or so pages of Marlon James's A Brief History of Seven Killings I knew that I was reading an extraordinary novel, the kind that makes me page back and forth, set the book down, think about the language, then start again. I had to start the book over because I'd read quickly. The book flows because language is both brutally visceral and mesmerizing. There are offhand killings, botched killings, killings cunningly plotted and awkwardly executed. Although this book is centered on the miraculously failed attempt on Bob Marley's life and the swirl of murderous gang rivalry, cold war paranoia, and the infamous suffering of ghetto drug user/dealers, it is not a history book. It is what history feels like. I couldn't get out of this book. Sometimes I couldn't find my way inside of it, but I couldn't stop reading it either. Marlon James writes great characters, from the hit man desperate to please a scornful boyfriend, to a woman on the lam whose survival story is raucous, suspenseful, and absurd. This intelligent, intense, profane, and beautifully fluent novel is shortlisted for and richly deserves the National Book Critic's Circle Award for fiction this year -- best of luck, Marlon James.
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