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Book Review: Compression – A Novel of Sex, Drugs, Punk Rock and Dark Hidden Secrets by Tim Cundle

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Compression is a gripping coming-of-age story with believable characters.

The novel opens with our hero Flanagan sleeping in a car driven by his band mate Elliott. The two punk rockers are heading home to a small English seaside town for their ten year high school reunion. Outsiders in high school, the two men are now international recording stars. The tension between them is strong, with Elliot's abuse and Flanagan's cowed acquiescence. Elliot bullies Flanagan about the latter's first love possibly being at that reunion and we learn that he has had few lovers in the intervening years. And Flanagan is haunted by nightmares about a tragic event that occurred in the two men's past.

The dark event alluded to in the conversation between the two men comes to light in a series of flashbacks. In fact, much of the background to the current relationships is explained this way, as Flanagan reconnects with high school friends and comes to a resolution with each one. Although we know the crime committed by the two men – along with four other people who never left home – early in the novel, the mystery revolves not around that but around how each participant lives their lives afterwards. We also learn how Flanagan in particular dealt with this loss of innocence.

Flanagan finds his home in punk rock, but then complains about people treating him like the pariah he's created himself to be. The other friends make different choices: a divorced cop, a doctor who still lives with her parents, a murderer, and a porn movie star.

Cundle clearly understands the subcultures of punk music and addiction. He riffs on musicians as property of record companies that buy rockers dope to keep them happy: "anything happens to us and they lose revenue." The author realistically describes the rituals of the addict, and the cycle of using drugs with its attendant paranoia.

Cundle is very good at description, with phrases like "[t]he stale air hit me like a tsunami and I knew what Tokyo must have felt like in all those Godzilla movies." The novel's tone may lead you to believe that this is a noir mystery. While the book has that feel in the setting and moral decay of several of the characters, Flanagan does in fact come to terms with his past and makes life changes in response to those realizations, something that never occurs in a true noir story.

Though this is his first novel, Cundle is an experienced writer and the editor of Mass Movement Magazine, a UK zine dedicated to hardcore and metal music. He roadied for several punk bands in the UK and the U.S., and has a degree in human behavior.

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