Sometimes, the idea behind a nameless protagonist is to make it easier for the reader to identify with him or her. For instance, my name is Sean. Rarely will you find a book where the main character was named Sean. With that being said, its a simple task to imagine myself in the shoes of a nameless character than one named, let’s say, Tom. In fact, I’m more likely to imagine the hypothetical Tom to act or sound or even look like, if the author doesn’t really tell us how the hero looks, a Tom I personally know on some level. And let’s be honest, as writers, we spend time and effort to produce a piece that we want you, the reader, to actually enjoy. Sure, if you pick up a copy of a book, we have a single sale. But, most writers want you take something with you from the story, not only because it would hopefully bring you back for future pieces, but because, we’re arrogant and like to think we’re teaching you something valuable. In other words, if you can’t identify with the main character, unless you’re totally adorable and trying to humor me by reading a book that you don’t quite get the point of because the characters’ motivations are so incredibly abstract to you, why in the blue blazes would you keep reading it?
Tom Piccirilli’s protagonist in Every Shallow Cut is one of those characters with no name. Not once is he addressed by another character in the book by his name. He doesn’t introduce himself to the reader or another character in the book. Quite literally, the hero could be anyone, including myself. As the reader progresses through the story, you get to know about his past, he’s a writer that’s produced to some acclaim, however unfortunately has received only dismal sales. In fact, his agent barely even registers his existence anymore, focusing more on the writers that push out tween romances involving monsters, or mashups of classics with monsters, or classic monsters having romances with tweens. Furthermore, the protagonist’s wife has left him, not only for another lover, but in financial ruin, forcing him to sell all of his Earthly possessions save for his car and his beloved dog, Churchill. In short, this nameless character has nothing but the clothes on his back. We find him getting the crap kicked out of him in front of a pawn shop, in a failed attempt to sell the last of his physical connection to his deceased parents. It is the first of so many things that the main character has and will fail at as the book continues, for he is, quite possibly, the most pathetic character I’ve ever read about, in literature.
What saves this story from being one unbelievably depressing tome of despair is the connection that the main character has with Churchill. Without that companionship, the story would just be one terrible event after another, with little to no motivation to keep reading at all, as the two of them travel across the country from Colorado to Long Island where the protagonist calls home. As the trip progresses, the main character finds himself blindly scribbling his way through a small stack of legal pads, of which could be his next failed novel, or a memoir of some sort, or even a suicide note, he admits. The two live through severe flooding in the Midwest, bear witness to the downtrodden and hopeless, and eat out of snack machines in rundown motels, all while on their way to the house of the protagonist’s estranged brother.
Piccirilli’s prose is what keeps you turning the page through the character’s horrible life. The reason why the tween romances with monsters are selling is because they inspire hope and emotion in the hearts of readers around the world with little to no effort on the part of anyone involved, be it the reader or the writer. Teenage girls don’t want to read about a failure going home to live with his asshole brother. Its depressing. However, being the educated and classy reader that you are, you pick up Every Shallow Cut and get sucked in by the pathetic narrator, his dry but amusing outlook on life, the almost buddy-cop relationship between the protagonist and his loveable bulldog, and you pull for them. You hope that when they get to Long Island, that everything will right itself. He’ll find his long-lost first love, patch things up with his brother, reconnect with old friends, and those legal pads bear the fruit of a New York Bestseller. You’re reading and reading about this sad sack, hoping his dog finds only the best trees to pee on, a classy poodle to mount, and a clean patch of cement in front of some hipster’s flat to poop on. You’re reading because Piccirilli has the ability to make you keep reading. His words grab you by the back of the head and pull you in, telling you, its okay, no one shimmers in the sunlight, Churchill doesn’t slay zombies, this isn’t a happy story, but it’s good for you. You’ll enjoy it. You’ll learn something, and hopefully, one day, this won’t be you.