Michael Collins is a genius. As an Irish author who writes about America he has a great eye for the outsider’s point of view with a cutting insightfulness. After discovering Richard Yates last year I now see some similarities in both their work. Yates canvas was the 50s and 60s while Collins like to us the mid-to-late 90s as his setting. His previous novels have all been set in small American towns and have captured the despair and hopelessness of those who become trapped in those places. His new novel, MIDNIGHT IN A PERFECT PLACE, is set in Chicago and he sets his sharp observations on living in our cities.
This novel is quite slim, just over 200 pages, but it is staggering how much Collins can pack into that space. As with his last novel, THE SECRET LIFE OF E. ROBERT PENDLETON, this novel also examines the life and struggles of a writer. Collins examines writing as an art form and an author who is grappling with their own creativity.
The narrator of the novel is Karl. As a young man he seemed destined from greatness but has battled with what he calls his ‘opus’. Now in his forties he has fallen into obscurity, living off his wife’s money. When he helps ghostwrite a new novel for a successful crime writer, who is battlimg illness, he believes he is on the brink of the success he was always earmarked for. But his ego gets the better of himself and he ruins the golden opportunity.
The fear of returning to insignificance drives Karl in a despairing search for inspiration. He tries to find it in his own day-to-day existence but this only plunges his life into the same disrepair and turmoil that his writing is suffering from. In scrutinizing this process Collins weaves into the story a commentary on identity, fatherhood, love, loss and perception.
This is a dark, brooding, philosophical masterpiece.