5 out 5 Cocktails to CHUM by Jeff Somers

Posted Oct 4 2013, 3:09 am in


WARNING: Though I write novels for teens, Jeff’s Chum is not such a novel and isn’t suitable for children. 


From Amazon:

Mary and Bickerman are the center of their circle of friends–but these friends are strangers as well as family to them. In the course of year, under the influence of a stressful wedding and a whole lot of alcohol, relationships and nerves are twisted and broken as the dynamics of the cozy-seeming group shift. Secrets are kept, emotions withheld, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to end well for anyone.

Told always in first person, but not the same person, and unfolding in double-helix chronology that provides a Rashomon-like narration, Chum is the story of love, liquor, and death.

Those of you who know me know I’m a huge Jeff Somers fan. His Avery Cates series left me sweaty and breathless and dreaming about a dirty, toothless assassin. His urban fantasy, Trickster, had me ready to open a vein.  When I read Chum, I was left feeling a whole jumble of emotions – at the top of the list? Awe. Nobody makes me want to know what makes unlikeable characters tick the way Jeff does. I’m a writer myself and trust me on this, Jeff’s deft handling of characters who are anything but nice is pure magic.

Chum opens with a wedding – typically a happy occasion, right? Not so for these characters. The bride is on her last nerve, the groom is checking the guest list for a divorce lawyer, the bridesmaid can’t keep her hands off anything with a Y chromosome and the groomsmen are making bets on how long the marriage will last. This is not a happy group. This isn’t even a particularly nice group. Jeff’s writing is like some kind of drug, enticing me to read more.

Think about the reasons you pick up a book. For me, it’s because I want to escape real life for a little while or maybe sink into a happy ending. Reading about dysfunctional false friends isn’t fun – but it’s something – a mix of introspection and unanswerable questions and squirmy discomfort and maybe even a touch of schadenfreude.  This is Jeff’s genius and someday, when I figure out how he does it, I will retire on the royalties from the Someresque novels I will write in homage.

At the wedding, we meet bride and groom Mary and Bick. There’s Mary’s sister, the slutty Miriam. Her friends, Denise, Kelly, and Flo. Then, we have the guys. Tommy, Hank, Mike, and Luis. Some of the connections date back to childhood, others to college, and others – who knows? What formed the connections doesn’t matter – what sustains them, however, does matter. On the surface, it appears that alcohol is their glue. But as I read more deeply, I decided it’s their contemptibility that keeps them together. The story is told from multiple points of view on different days, on the occasions when the lives of this group of friends intersect. Aside from the Bickerman wedding, we get a glimpse of Saint Patrick’s Day, where we learn somebody has some serious trust issues and also get a glimpse that foreshadows things to come. The book doesn’t follow a timeline in the conventional sense – events are not shared in sequence. Jeff jumps from the wedding to various holidays in a Momento-like series of narrations – each from a different character. Confusing? Yeah. Brilliant? Hell, yeah. Jeff’s mastery of dialogue and characterization leave you with no question as to who’s narrating each chapter, particularly when Henry or Tommy are on stage.

If I have to find something to pick on, it would be the title – this book should have been called WE ARE NOT GOOD PEOPLE, but Jeff already used that in his urban fantasy, TRICKSTER.

You may need to read it more than once to appreciate all the subtleties, but read it. It won’t disappoint.



1 Comment


One response to “5 out 5 Cocktails to CHUM by Jeff Somers”

  1. Jen Toland says:

    I personally thought the title was an intentional double entendre; Chum can mean a friend, but it can also mean the disgusting fish guts meant to attract sharks.