What is it like for a man who expected to die in prison to suddenly find himself back on the outside after fourteen years served for a murder that DNA testing now proves was not his doing? Will he be able to control his rage, the same rage that he learned to depend on in prison for his very survival, so that he does not commit a crime of violence that returns him to lockup? Can he tolerate the leeches, including his wife, who are so eager to help him spend the false-imprisonment settlement he will soon collect from the Canadian government?
In his novel, Inside, Kenneth J. Harvey places himself in the mind of just such a character, Myrden (a man whose first name is never revealed), and does it so effectively that many of those questions are answered. Harvey, in fact, tells Myrden’s story largely through the man’s own thought processes, a technique that leaves the reader standing squarely in Myrden’s shoes, seeing life through his eyes, and feeling all of his emotions and frustrations. The book, in fact, is almost completely written in sentence fragments of less than five words and reading it is like listening to Myrden think out loud.
Myrden is the first to admit that he was not exactly an innocent man when he was sent to prison for murder. At times he is not completely sure, despite the new DNA evidence, that he did not commit the crime and wonders if the real mistake is that he is being released. But he is grateful for the large settlement he receives from the government and is eager to use it to better the lives of his daughter and his granddaughter, Caroline, the true love of his life.
Sadly, Myrden, a man who has learned the trick of depending only upon himself for survival, finds it near impossible to relate to a wife who seems only to care about the cash windfall headed their way, his old crowd, or the poverty that surrounds them all. Wanting nothing more than to be left alone, he is forced instead to deal with the newspaper reporters who hound him for a quote and old friends who see him as a local celebrity with cash to blow. His immersion into the hard world from which he had been snatched and imprisoned, a world in which he is surrounded by reckless people with little to lose, the only world he has ever known, is inevitable despite his best intentions.
Myrden is a man who wants nothing more than to make life a little easier for those he loves, his way of making up for past mistakes before it is too late. He has some small successes but, when others begin to interfere with his larger goals, he has to decide how far he is willing to go to put things right and whether or not he is prepared to suffer the consequences.
Inside explores a world that, thankfully, few of Harvey’s readers will have experienced firsthand. It is a brutal place filled with people who have lost all hope that things will ever be better for them and their families, a place dominated by addictions and those willing to do most anything to feed them, a world in which second chances do not often turn out well. This is not a pretty novel but it is well worth the effort.
Rated at: 4.0