Written by Steven Rappaport — Jack holds down two jobs. By day he’s a journalist at the New York Times and outside of hours Jack is a paid assassin for the Russian mob. From an early age Jack knew he was different to others around him. His realisation dawned when he managed to make murderous revenge on a fellow school student appear to be an accident. Jack was calculating and intelligent enough to know he needed an outlet for his desires and consequently sought out Serge, a mob boss, by dating his daughter, even though he has already met his true love, Sara Beth.
Jack travels copiously as a journalist, both in the US and abroad. He has enough freedom in his role to tack on his extra-curricular work. He offs a couple along with a nosey observer in Tel Aviv, and undertakes the deliberately messy dispatch of an Italian in a method designed to send a message to the mafia. He shoots a drug dealer while accompanied by his best friend. At the same time he raises his kids and supports his now wife Sara Beth, who has expanding career as a fashion designer.
Sadly, author Steven Rappaport’s son died relatively young, aged 40, from a neurological disorder. He wrote If Jack Had to infuse his son with the life he never had and it makes the reading poignant from the outset. But the choice the author makes for his son – to be a contract killer – is strange and unsettling. In fact, Jack wavers on the verge of being a serial killer and he admits as much. The only difference between the two is he gets paid to kill people. Jack also has four children and through the novel Rappaport gets to spend time with them in their imagined lives. Stepping beyond the narrative, it’s odd to think that the author is conversing with the grandchildren he will never have. The first person narrative makes it seem all the more personal.
The plotting is structured through a series of recollections and jumps around a lot. In the opening pages Jack is in Paris with Sara Beth researching a story and about to kill someone. Then we jump to the end, with Jack an old man on his last legs and Sara Beth several years dead. Then a little further on Jack is young again. He meets Sara Beth and we see his initial voyage of discovery when he kills his student colleague. And that’s how the plot goes, back and forth in time. One chapter Jack is decrepit and struggling to hold his gun firmly, the next he’s vibrant and raising children with his wife. It requires some concentration to keep up. Right at the end there’s a decent twist that completes the circle and allows Jack to both question and accept his path. It’s up to you to decide whether or not there’s any justification in murdering people for a living…
If Jack Had is nicely written, there’s no problem with the style or language. The characterisation is decent, the dialogue pretty good and the first person perspective adds a degree of immediacy. It would be interesting to read a book by Steven Rappaport where he’s not so personally engaged – in this peculiar way – with the subject matter.
Black Rose Writing
CFL Rating: 3 Stars