Stepping On The Cracks

Stepping On The Cracks
By Christopher L Carter
Matador/Troubador – £8.99

Stepping On The Cracks is Christopher L Carter’s first novel, and in a way, it reads like a first novel. That’s not to say it’s bad, but given its magnificently magnetic subject matter – the questionable charm of Sarf London during the Seventies aligned with Bowie and assorted boot-boys – it really ought to have been so much better.

But writing, just like the imagination and the degree to which repetition can sometimes work (although more often than not, fall flat on its literary face), is highly subjective.

As such, it was from the premise of subjectivity alone that I continued to read these 459 pages; admittedly armed with just a little trepidation, hesitation and pangs of disappointment. Whilst kicking off admirably enough outside of Ziggy Stardust’s infamous Farewell Show at London’s Hammersmith Odeon in 1973 (July 3rd), if the word ‘Dave’ is mentioned once during the first eleven pages of Chapter One, then by the end of chapter three, it subliminally sounds as if Dave has been mentioned eight-hundred and fifty-two-thousand, nine-hundred and forty-seven times too many.

In other words, I (may have) have already lost interest, because not only is ‘Dave’ alluded to far too often – which is surprisingly annoying to say the least – he’s made out to be some sort of holy cross between Elvis Presley and strawberry jam; Julie Burchill, oral sex and wit personified. Now there’s a thought of unimaginable catharsis – although our ‘Dave,’ really is none of these.

So just what is it, that tempts or convinces one to continue reading?

Well I kept with it, purely as a result of some of the author’s admirable frankness and dare I say it, conviction; even when weighted down by some of his semi-protagonist Dave’s deeply entrenched insularity. A perfect example of which is made painstakingly clear as early as page twenty-one: ‘’It was those things that messed Dave up, the not knowing. Trying desperately to swim against the tide of natural instincts that swelled inside, instincts that made him want to impress, to make his dad proud, instead of trying to make him think that he didn’t give a toss for his approval or admiration, and in the end he would achieve neither. Left treading water, stranded in a sea of uncertainty.’’

The line ‘’stranded in a sea of uncertainty’’ is just one of many throughout Stepping On The Cracks, that is wholeheartedly capable of catapulting the reader right back to their own adolescence – wherever and whenever that may be. Although in this particular instance, the seventies make for a fantastic start. And not in a (n entirely) cheesy way might I add.

If nothing else: Carter comes across as meaning what he writes and writing what he means, of which the following are a fine representation: ‘’[…] so the conversation had flitted about like confetti, until it had landed safely upon the shoulders of football,’’ ‘’illegible headstones that jutted haphazardly from the ground like rows of decaying teeth,’’ ‘’the sound of Christmas trampled to death beneath the stampede of growing hostility,’’ ‘’stilted bouts of conversation, as the splintered light from the streetlight outside cascaded over us like stinging shards of humiliation.’’

Both promising and occasionally poignant, Stepping on The Cracks has ensured I’ll keep a lookout for the follow-up.

David Marx

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