The protagonist of James W. Fuerst’s Huge is Eugene “Huge” Smalls, a young devotee of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, authors whose characters are defined by their sparse, masculine speaking styles and weary cynicism—traits that Huge, the character, emulates. The youth-as-noir-detective shtick is largely successful here because, as it turns out, the worldviews of hard-boiled crime fiction protagonist and angsty pre-teen aren’t actually all that different. Like many noir heroes, Huge is primed for violence and estranged from a world he views as a place of irreversible moral decay—requisite traits for any antihero from the genre.
Fuerst strikes a good balance in his dialogue, which is recognizably adolescent while also appropriately stylized. When a locale is described as being “at arm’s length from the real action, like the kids’ table at Thanksgiving,” it reads both as affected tough guy dialect, and as something any grouchy tween might say.
While Huge is successful as a character study, it is less so as a mystery (Huge is tasked with uncovering who vandalized the retirement home). The culprit is clear early on, and it’s as if Fuerst hasn’t decided whether he’s writing a straight entry into the genre or a parody. Instead of a sidekick, for example, Huge has Thrash, a stuffed frog who “makes Watson look like a bitch” and who encourages Huge’s tendencies toward violence. Thrash is at once a traditional companion, an odd narrative detail that we’re meant to find amusing, and a dark figure whose influence Huge should be wary of. But it’s unclear whether he’s meant to be read seriously.
This tonal discord doesn’t detract from the book, in part because Huge is a robust lead. Besides, the heart of the story is less about solving the crime than finding out whether Huge can deal with the truth of the matter when he finds it. Because of Thrash and the hyper-stylized prose, it’d be easy to find this novel gimmicky, but there are real stakes and emotions here. This is Fuerst’s debut, and he’s clearly a strong talent whose not afraid to take risks. Much like his colorful and young protagonist, he’ll go far if he can control his wild side.