I’m not sure about Salman Rushdie’s claim (“irresistible”) but Mark Wisniewski’s Watch Me Go will pull you along. This is a curious and memorable book, from nearly inverted structure to the unusual pair of co-protagonists. The story flips back and forth between a down-and-out junk hauler with dreams who gets badly ensnared in a major crime (and then crimes, plural) and a young female jockey who is looking for a fresh start after the death of her father. Both characters also love and yearn for another.
Douglas “Deesh” Sharp’s situation is palpable and relevant, especially given the controversies that are sweeping the country regarding the racial tensions between city police forces and minorities, particularly young black men (or black men of any age). Wisniewki’s tale is positively prescient within the context of massive protests that popped up over the past few months from New York to Missouri to California.
You may not understand why Deesh would help dump a sealed oil drum, knowing full well what the drum likely contains, but you can feel his horizons widen as he and his crew encounter some good luck and you can feel his options close down quickly when events turn horrendously ugly.
Deesh’s encounter with Gabe, a reclusive fishing guide, form a major chunk of the fast-moving chapters in the middle of the book. Gabe instantly recognizes Deesh as the subject of a massive manhunt and, at gun point as they head upriver, Gabe willingly absolves Deesh of any wrongdoing. Even from his reclusive spot in the world, Gabe is rock sure that Deesh encountered a racist cop in the incident that led to Deesh’s need to run for his life. It’s Gabe who announces that the country “is one big old melting pot of hatred” but somehow has the ability, it seems, to peer deep down in Deesh’s soul and discern that Deesh is no hater. Gabe talks a “blue streak” about a variety of topics including survival in the wild, love and fishing. Gabe’s (spoiler alert) demise further puts the squeeze on Deesh’s multi-layered predicament but seemed expedient and perhaps a touch too easy on behalf of the plot. (These are only mild complaints about the “Gabe” sections, given the hefty goals of the novel.)
The “Jan” chapters give us a portrait of a young woman understanding the world of thoroughbred horse racing and heavy gambling. We know from the opening chapter that Jan knows Deesh “is as innocent as a colt learning to walk” so the suspense factor to the whole arc of Watch Me Go is slightly deflated. Wisniewski’s vivid portrait of this young woman puts you deep inside her thoughts and skin. Both Deesh and Jan are sharply drawn–and interesting characters, particularly as they think about the people they would like to be closer to.
My hunch is Wisniewski didn’t write this to get your heart pounding or to get you to turn the pages quickly (even though the snappy pace will keep you doing so). I think he wrote this as companion portraits of desperation, betrayal and reactions to fear.
“Sometimes,” thinks Jan, “there came the kind of fear animals felt, the necessary kind, the kind that’s akin to survival, the kind that makes bees sting and hummingbirds quite humming to zip off into the woods, that kind that makes fish, of any size, know when not to bite and instead dart and zigzag toward depth.”
To me, Watch Me Go is an interesting study in honest fear and how two very different people—two very different people whose lives cross—manage the moment. Skip the hype and take Watch Me Go less as a thriller (though it certainly has plenty of those elements) and more of a smart novel about desperate people.