The November Criminals
The November Criminals:
by Sam Munson
$24.95 List Price
Sam Munson’s debut, The November Criminals, hinges on the distinct, adolescent voice of its narrator. In the tradition of Huck (“You don’t know about me”) and Holden (“If you really want to hear about it”), Munson’s Addison Schacht starts with “You’ve asked me to explain what my best and worst qualities are.” This particular you is the admissions board of the University of Chicago, and the novel’s clever conceit is an extended response to a generic essay question. In a spirited mea culpa, Addison recounts the unsolved murder of one of his classmates at John F. Kennedy Senior High School in Washington, DC, and his attempt to solve the crime in a series of rowdy misadventures. The detective work yields little more than the narrator’s nihilistic epiphany.
The November Criminals is set in 1999, a fact conveyed less through references to politics or music than in the buzzing of Addison’s pager. Equal parts drug dealer, Latin-grammar whiz, and smart-aleck stoner, he’s a motherless son, raised by an emotionally distant and unsuccessful ceramicist father. Such is the particular source of angst, whose strange display, from a Jew, is in making Holocaust jokes with his sort-of girlfriend, Digger (The Sorrow and the Pity, here, as in Annie Hall, is date-movie material). “What’s brown and hides in the attic?” You might not want to know the punch line.
Race and the exposure of racism are the novel’s central concerns. Addison is white, middle-class, and part of his high school’s gifted-and-talented program. Kevin Broadus, the murder victim, was black and also a G&T member. Addison has