Christian Book Reviews, Author Interviews, Excerpts

First-Time Novelist’s Russell Fink a Huge Success

  • Annabelle Robertson Contributing Writer
  • 2008 31 May
First-Time Novelist’s <i>Russell Fink</i> a Huge Success

Author:  Michael Snyder
Title:  My Name Is Russell Fink
Publisher:  Zondervan

You’re going to love Russell Fink.  What’s not to love, after all?  He’s just your average, everyday hypochondriac preacher’s kid who struggles with his faith, can’t stand up to anyone—least of all dad—and believes his dog is clairvoyant.  Named after his grandfather, Russell also knows he’s doomed to inherit his dad’s double chin, too, so he regularly applies a homemade pomade to the endangered area every night, before bed.

Of course, there is the matter of Russell’s Bassett Hound, Sonny.  Our hero has embraced the unfortunate habit of feeding his dog vodka-dunked biscuits in order to get him drunk, you see.  And this, in turn, has turned Sonny into a bit of an alcoholic.  But alcoholism may be genetic—and this gene runs in the Fink family.  Sonny knows the answers to life’s deepest questions, but he won’t reveal them unless he’s drunk.  Two barks for yes; silence for no.  So can you blame the guy for trying?

Russell isn’t the only intriguing character in this, Michael Snyder’s debut novel.  In addition to Russell’s father, who is trying to make a comeback, and his mother, who has a real penchant for vodka, we also meet Russell’s love interest, Geri—not to be confused with Russell’s fiancé, Alyssa, who is rallying the senior citizens of Nashville to protest the local porn shop.  There’s Dan, who runs a funeral home for dogs (convenient, since Sonny does take a celestial dirt nap—the main plot point of the book).  And then there’s Peter, Sonny’s gambler brother, who comes to every family gathering with a notebook, as research for his forthcoming memoir.  You don’t get better characters than this.

You also don’t get writing as good as this—at least not often.  Snyder has quite the knack for turning his phrases, and he’s hilarious.  He’s a bit too fond of his similes (“my heart starts to pound like a stallion trapped in a closet with its tail on fire” being one that should have caught an editor’s eye).  But others—particularly those that aren’t stacked with prepositional clauses—are brilliant, as are most of his metaphors.  Snyder understands the importance of strong verbs and nouns, and he also uses adjectives and adverbs very judiciously—all the hallmarks of a good writer.  Take this passage:

“The phone rings; I’m guessing it’s Mom, anxious to unload another ripe batch of guilt on me about skipping church.  So I stare at the phone until it stops.

“Sonny meanders toward me, nuzzling the turkey baster.  I can’t help but be amused by the fading twinkle in his eye—my sweet alcoholic dog. Even as I empty the treats into his bowl I promise myself that this is it.  This is the last time I will stoop to this level of wretched inadequacy.  Of course I’ve broken this same promise no less than a dozen times.  It seems I’m as addicted to his gift as he is to the sweet nectar of ninety proof.

“I’ve become an enabler.

“He sniffs he dry wafer and eyes me impatiently, like a junkie trying to keep it together while the deal goes down.  I coat the biscuits with my mother’s vodka. …”

The plot centers around the search for Sonny’s killer and lands, as most Christian novels do, at the cross.  It drags somewhat in the middle but picks up toward the end which, though inspirational, did feel slightly forced.  It’s a great read, however, and a huge success, especially for a first-time novelist.  And while I do wish Snyder had left a few loose ends, instead of tidying everything up so nicely, I still can’t wait to read his next book.