I know it has been a horribly long time – my apologies. I am full of excuses, but I will spare you and just get right into the review. Michael Synder’s first novel, My Name is Russell Fink, is dubbed “Christian Fiction” in some circles but don’t let that dissuade you; it’s quirky, neurotic, intense, and cleverly executed almost entirely throughout.
Let’s introduce some characters to give you a full sense of what Synder does in this fun little book.
Russell Fink: Our hero and the teller of our tale. This young man has more issues than publishing clearinghouse. Seriously. I think they make medication for people like this. He is a hypochondriac who goes to the doctor almost as much as he actually shows up at his job – he’s an office supply salesman and he isn’t exactly happy about that either. He’s an artist, of sorts, and like most artists, his muse is a woman. He lives with his parents. He blames himself for his twin sister’s death (she died of cancer when they were young) and in addition to self-loathing, he has issues with his Bible-thumping TV evangelist father, alcoholic mother, gambler brother, and God. He loves his dog, Sonny, hates his neighbor, and has been head over heels for his college chum Geri for years.
Sonny: Old basset hound who prefers his dog biscuits soaked in vodka. He may or may not be clairvoyant. His murder sends Russell on a quest to find the culprit.
Alyssa: Russell’s (ex) fiancee. Wannabe actress. Prom queen mentality. Every thing she does must be dramatic, including her on-again off-again relationship with Russell.
Peter Fink: Russell’s older brother. Gambler (deeply in debt), coffee-shop owner, a bit shady, obsessed with winning a Pulitzer for his family memoirs. Hates Sonny. Subject of threatening letters.
Gary Fink: Russell’s father. Pastor. Rose to fame when praying for a group of cancer-ridden patients, his daughter included. A large number of them were “healed” – his daughter was not one of the survivors. Desirous to be on TV.
Geri: Russell’s best friend. Able to tell when the time zone changes whilst traveling. Makes her own clothes out of things like Canadian flags and Russell’s old sweatshirts. Has a few secrets of her own.
Other characters include Russell’s alcoholic mother, the neighbor who puts dog poop in the mailbox, Geri’s cousin Dan – owner of the pet funeral home who tends to heat everything before eating it – including oranges, coworkers, a PI, and Russell’s grandfather, a man who found Jesus while in prison for killing his wife.
The book runs quite smoothly until the end, where everything rushes into a neat and tidy conclusion, which does the book a disservice. But I would recommend it. Not a bad first novel. And certainly worthy of a beach read.