Joseph Rakowski is a talented writer under 30 that you’ve never heard of. He didn’t start out with the ability to tell a story skillfully. He learned that by writing The Delivery Cut, which starts out somewhat tentatively but develops such cool mastery by its closing chapters that I’d like to say: “New York publishers, eat your heart out that you don’t have this guy writing for you.”
The Delivery Cut bodes so well for the future of this writer because the novel, nominally in genre a somewhat hard boiled thriller, is really derived from a quirk in the personality of its lead character, James Young. And that quirk is a paradoxical attitude towards the passage of time.
James wants to live experientially. If that’s sounds mundane, it’s because he has the gut feeling that most people don’t. His first year in law school repels him, the law students repel him and his law professors seem like the judges in Kafka’s The Trial, arbitrary and inscrutable. Maybe that’s just how they look to a first law law student. But a hallmark of Rakowski’s portrayal of the first year in law school is an acid presentation of professorial ass-kissing on the part of the students.
Maybe being a sap comes with the age, but when James gets trapped in a one person restroom during an orientation party sail with co-student Tom(We are in Miami.), he gets planted with a bag of cocaine in his back pocket that Tom had to dump somewhere. One of their law profs, Professor Hall, is bearing down on them.
When the party boat docks, Tom and his girlfriend split, in the confusion of the milling crowd, James has lost track of them. Then James gets a cell call in his car from Tom asking him to deliver the cocaine.
James, pissed as hell, throws the bag of cocaine in the bushes. But then he puzzles out that it’s owners know that he has it. So thinking better of dumping the cocaine, he decides, just this once, to deliver it.
If you’ve gotten this far, you’ve reached chapter six in The Delivery Cut, and here’s where Joseph Rakowski transforms himself into a Writer, a large cap W writer. In a scene that reminded me of Humphrey Bogart going to meet Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre for the first time in The Maltese Falcon, James goes to a luxury apartment complex, passes through stiff security and up a private elevator, in order to meet Claude and Hugo in their drop-dead luxury flat.
Here’s something that I’ve never seen happen in a novel before, James agrees to make a drug delivery for the elegant, Frankish Claude, while supported by the thuggish Hugo, who laughably styles himself as a “lawyer”. Claude renames James “Gabriel”, the bringer of good tidings, and this whole novel is tilted on its head, because James’ life is on a full tilt.
It’s the renaming to Gabriel which fascinates me. It’s like a reincarnation. Joseph R recreates his character right before your eyes. Up to this point in the story, I couldn’t remember James’ name. I had to keep looking back into the text to remind myself. But once I heard “Gabriel” I never forgot it. And I had no problem remembering Claude and Hugo either. They step off the page, flesh and blood created out of a few sentences. That’s what I would call “writing”!
Joseph Rakowski isn’t what you could call a genre writer. He’s a writer who tells stories about characters who, in turn, want to tell their stories. Gabriel’s motivation is that he wants to have his own story. It’s not about the money which he mostly tries to give away. Although it’s funny that he can’t give it away as fast as he’s making it. I had to laugh that James/Gabriel buys tons of shoes so that he can have the shoe boxes left over to stuff with his surplus cash, which he hides in the closet of his ratty student apartment.
There’s a quote from Hunter S. Thompson, a Rakowski icon, at the beginning of the book. There’s also a fictional quote from James Gabriel Young. You might miss the fictional charade of that quote. Rakowski is a sly writer. He starts the fiction before you realize it.
But what The Delivery Cut is about, is who you decide to be. There’s a great line in the novel about not wanting to be the slave of someone else’s dream. Isn’t that what our society is about? A group of powerful people persuading you to live out their dream rather than your own? Gabriel, who was once someone called James, has found a way to have his own story.
Hey, Joseph Rakowski is a friend of mine. I didn’t know him from Adam until a few weeks ago when he sent me a memorable email at Three Guys entitled: “What the fuck do I do now?”
Be the brilliant writer you are, Joseph. That’s the story that I want you to own.