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Tara Lennart |



« No Strings »: zero security, nothing to keep you from falling to the ground. And thus there are no ties to prevent Richard Martzen, the narrator of Mark Safranko’s latest novel, from tumbling into a trap of compulsion and violence. And as always, the falt lies with a woman. This time around, Safranko’s work is full of his usual elevated cynicism and the strange adventures of an engaging anti-hero, but he also neatly draws us into a palpitating thriller…and spits us back out, uncomfortable and guilty.

Honestly, who’s never cheated? Who’s never done some crazy bullshit that endangered a comfortable daily life? Who has never been trapped in a wicked game of roulette, while the world threatened collapse? In my opinion, not very many people. Unless, of course, this article is being read by bold-faced liars or a busload of Jesus freaks. Maybe the former will keep reading; we can forgive them, everyone lies once in their lifetime. And maybe the latter are already on their way to pick up their kid at choir practice. Either way, you get my point.

Risk, temptation, challenge, indiscretions that change our everyday life… all these concepts often lead us where we didn’t expect to land, never mind how paranoid and careful we might be. These are the circumstances that give birth to drama. Because even when we plan meticulously, there’s always some fucking unforeseen detail. A name, a letter, a lingering text message, an intercepted phone call, lipstick smears, a girl that just won’t take no at face value. What can we do when it happens to us?

Good question, Richard Martzen! Tired of daily routine and the comforts of family life, this husband of an older (and richer) woman starts an adulterous relationship with, you guessed it, a beautiful young woman. So far, so good. But (and there’s always a but, thank god, if there wasn’t it’d be boring) this story rapidly meets a fork in the road. And luckily for us, lying in wait for this poor guy are blackmail, threats, and money changing hands. In the meantime, Martzen is so busy thinking with his cock that he doesn’t see the world of pain he’s landed himself in. An intellectually stimulating and physically rambunctious relationship turns into a nightmare in the blink of an eye, and Martzen finds himself trapped before he’s even felt the noose slip around his neck.

And now we come face to face with the inherent difficulty of this review: how can we discuss a crime without spoiling the whole plot? We can’t. Instead, let’s talk about Sfranko’s style–efficient and lean. He writes in a direct and often brutal way in this novel; mercilessly and with precision. He describes the mental movements of his characters without sentimental concession, but also with a depth of understanding that keeps us in suspense. In a sense, Richard Martzen could be anyone, any of us, no wiser than you or me. And in the end, No Strings is the story of a normal guy, overwhelmed by the reality he himself provoked.

The novel touches on a recurring theme in Safranko’s writing–that women are a bunch of faithless shrews, lawless and manipulative. So make sure you think twice before checking to see if the neighbor’s plumbing works better than your girlfriend’s. The price you could pay for a roll in the hay might be greater than you think. Mark said so!



No Strings, Black Coffee Press, 2013, 254 pages.