Charlie Stella’s fourth novel, Cheapskates, is low-rent mob behaviour at its best. If following the lives of New Jersey underworld scum for three hundred pages isn’t your idea of a good date, well, think again. There is much in this medium sized book to heighten your awareness of life – or even just to make you laugh.
Cheapskates follows Reese Waters as he navigates the Nation of Islam, the New Jersey Mob, and his best friend’s ex-wife – a woman who behaves as if she were spawned by Bernie Madoff and Rush Limbaugh. Cheapskates is full of seriously talented prose. Witness:
“Alex had just finished having sex with his girlfriend, Christine Molloy, a forty-five-year-old diner waitress from Croton-on-Hudson. Alex was thirty-eight years old, a little paunchy since he’d stopped smoking, and showing his first serious signs of balding. He turned his head from side to side in the mirror as he searched for new signs of hair loss.
‘Yikes, it’s cold in here!’ Christine yelled from the bathroom doorway.
Shivering, she pulled a bathrobe around her shoulders and sprinted across the hotel room to jump into bed. Alex wasn’t prepared for the gymnastics and spilled some soda on his chest.
‘Sheee-it,’ he said. ‘Are you crazy?’
Christine quickly dabbed at the soda spill with a napkin. She dispensed with the napkin and began to lick his chest. Alex pulled away.
‘Christ,’ he said. ‘Take a Valium or something. I need some time here.’
Christine bit her lower lip to shape her best seductive smile. She was still attractive despite the hard life she’d led. Except for a few blotches of cellulite on the backs of her legs and rump, some stretch marks around her nipples, and a few faint acne scars, she continued to turn heads, especially when her very large breasts were held together with a bra.
Licking her lips as she spoke, she told Alex, ‘I was hoping to speed your trip, baby.’”
This is exciting stuff. And though Christine has only one other scene – she gets blackout drunk at a restaurant – she’s my favourite character. She reminds me of another Molloy, as imagined by the Irish writer, Samuel Beckett. In the final novel of Beckett’s trilogy, he writes: “And that I seek, like a caged beast born of caged beasts born of caged beasts born of caged beasts born in a cage and dead in a cage.” Well, America, we did the mob thing and the corporate crime thing and the empire thing. What next? Where are we speeding to? And, perhaps most importantly, is it possible to take the Christine’s of this world with us?
Cheapskates is a fun book. I would recommend it to anyone interested in quirky and illicit lifestyles. I think it would be a good fit for anyone who does shift work or is unemployed. (Read: I think it would be a good fit for all of us.)