Shooting the Heart: Paul Cody
August 15, 2011 | Reviews
Shooting the Heart, by Paul Cody, initially hooked me with its intriguing premise. A man, Earl Madden, is currently living in a mental hospital. His problem? He may or may not have murdered his wife. His memories are foggy at best. He often confuses his actions with those of the infamous serial killers that he has been obsessed with with nearly all of his life. He attempts to piece back together his memories, starting with those from his childhood, to hopefully figure out what exactly happened to his wife. It’s an exciting idea, and the novel starts out quite promisingly, but somewhere along the way it falls short. I don’t want to condemn this novel entirely, so let’s break it down into what I thought was good and bad about Shooting the Heart.
Good: In between Earl’s memories are sections retelling the actions of famous serial killers. These are, in my opinion, the best and most compelling parts of the novel. What makes them particularly memorable is that, for the most part, Cody does not directly name the serial killer. The passages generally start out innocently enough; something like “He was a heavy-set man in his mid-thirties…” before that eventually turns into something darker: “I thought about him sleeping…for five or six years with all the bodies of boys, young boys, in the crawl space under his house.” More and more details are given, then you eventually realize “Oh that’s John Wayne Gacy” or “Oh that’s Ted Bundy” or “Oh, that’s the Boston Strangler”, etc. By making things more anonymous, the crimes perpetrated are no longer the unique crimes of (insert serial killer name here), but the crimes of any man, be he Earl Madden or even the individual reading the book. (Unless you happen to be a woman, Cody shies away from female serial killers.) Cody describes these sections in such incredibly vivid detail that it almost feels like the murders are happening again, right in front of you. There is so much detail, in fact, that certain parts can get hard to read. (For me, the Gacy section was the toughest. I have a high tolerance for gore, but that man was sick. I had to fight the urge to put my hands over my eyes when reading it.) With these sections, Cody proves that he can be a compelling, suspenseful writer.
Bad: Cody puts so much emphasis on the “serial killer sections” and writes them so well, that his own unique story becomes bland by comparison. The story of Earl almost feels like it is a filler for telling the tales of serial killers, instead of the other way around. The plot seem unimportant. The characters are forgettable. I have a very good memory, particularly for details in books, but I finished Shooting the Heart only two weeks before writing this review and had to flip through it so I could remember the name of the main character. (Not a good sign.) Cody’s writing even seems weaker when he is not talking about serial killers. He lapses into a disjointed way of writing that I understand is meant to reflect Earl’s confused mind, but just comes off as abrupt and faux-edgy. Here’s an example:
“Away from us. Distance and time, is what Joan said.
Pressure, pills. White wine. Green bottles. Rhine wine”
It seems like Cody trying just a little too hard to be profound, to pull off something that he doesn’t quite manage here. Cody is not a bad writer, as he proves in the “serial killer sections”, he is quite good. I have not read his other novels, but it seems like if given the right material, he would be on the level of similar writers like Bret Easton Ellis or Chuck Palahniuk. Perhaps the story of Earl Madden was just not the right story for him to tell.
Would I recommend this book? Yes, if you have any interest in serial killer lore. (It’s okay if you do, it doesn’t make you crazy like Earl.) Otherwise, I’d say no. Cody shows potential with Shooting the Heart, but unfortunately this novel doesn’t quite come together.