November 21, 2009


by David Moody
288 pages, Thomas Dunne Books

Review by S. P. Miskowski

Hater was first published by author David Moody in 2006. In 2009 Thomas Dunne Books in the United States and Orion Books in the United Kingdom republished the novel. Hater is the initial volume of a three-book series and will be followed by Dog Blood in 2010.

Moody has become successful while bypassing the traditional industry model. His first self-published effort (the post-apocalyptic Autumn) was originally offered for free online. More than half a million downloads led to a movie adaptation and republication of the five-book series by Thomas Dunne Books.

Without an agent Moody also managed to sell Hater film rights to producers Mark Johnson (The Chronicles of Narnia) and Guillermo del Toro (Hellboy, Pan's Labyrinth). The movie adaptation is scheduled for release in 2010 directed by Juan Antonio Bayona (The Orphanage).

Hater opens with a random act of violence between apparent strangers on a crowded city street. The act is observed by dozens of people on their way to work. Witnesses are torn. Should they assist the hapless victim? Should they try to stop the attacker? Or should they try and make it to the office on time? Most people choose the latter option, not out of fear but out of habit.

In an early chapter protagonist Danny McCoyne sums up his work life this way:

"Sometimes having such a dull and monotonous job is an advantage. This stuff is way beneath me and I don't really have to think about what I'm doing."

We've all been there: moving, talking, making it through the day, yet mentally zoned out. The only incentive for returning every morning is a paycheck and there are times when it hardly seems worth it, to keep one's soul boxed up in a cubicle.

Danny's supervisor is belligerent and spiteful. His co-workers divide equally into the lame and the bitter. Danny lingers in a state of half-awareness in order to avoid getting angry enough to erupt.

When he isn't struggling to contain his temper Danny is bored by the tedious routine of processing fines for parking violations. And he is a little afraid of the enraged drivers who barrel into the office hoping to scream their way out of paying a fee to retrieve their impounded vehicles.

At home Danny copes with three small children who compete for his attention and never seem to shut up. His beloved yet increasingly alienated and harried wife finds fault with every move he makes. They seldom make love, and they are always tired. Just as disheartening in a different way, their combined salaries don't go far enough to afford luxuries that might relieve the close quarters and constant sacrifices that define their lives. They strive to be patient, loving parents, while longing for just one day of freedom, one whole night of sleep.

Sound familiar? Of course it does. Moody has accurately and vividly described the way a large part of the population in Great Britain and the U.S. manage to get by, week after week, year after year. In every area of the lives we have created, our sanity and our self-importance are chipped away, bit by bit.

Surviving urban competition requires a continual struggle. No wonder some of us go stark, raving mad. We are playing by the rules in a society that demands we behave properly and then rewards certain individuals who behave badly. We strenuously ignore one provocation after another, all day long, without any sanctified form of release other than music concerts and sporting events, highlighted in the book when an act of violence at a concert is initially misinterpreted and applauded as part of the show.

The first time Danny witnesses someone losing control and directing aggression at another person, he watches with the mixture of curiosity and disbelief we've all experienced at the spark of a crisis. In our orderly and unsatisfying world, in the midst of all the mundane activity we have contrived, denial is our most common response to the extraordinary.

Danny goes from denial to caution and then to a gradually dawning recognition that the violence he observes in various public places may not be a series of isolated incidents, but a rising wave of brutality with a single source. Something has gone wrong, and no one will explain how it has happened, or how to remedy it. More frightening, no one can predict who will be the next aggressor or victim.

The final section of the story is believable in terms of human nature, and I won't spoil it. Moody has achieved something rare and quite moving, which is to portray the outer boundary of what people are capable of doing without making his story seem like pure fantasy. No matter how far he goes, the plot remains plausible.

Few of us attain adulthood without witnessing at least one act of inexplicable violence. In addition, we read about such acts in the news all the time:

"Arkansas man sentenced for killing slow hairdresser."

"Canada bus passenger beheads seat mate."

"Arizona boy charged with killing father 'loved his dad.'"

"Man stabbed to death outside a fast-food restaurant in Oxford Street."

Moody has cleverly taken our peripheral awareness of such events, and fleshed out individual scenarios. These moments are scarily grounded in natural, nuanced behavior and are set in a social context we recognize all too well. Hater begs the uncomfortable questions: Should we find better, healthier, and more satisfying ways of managing our innate aggression, rather than putting on trendy clothes and making nice at the office every day? And is our willingness to go along with what we're told to do really such a positive quality in a human being?

--S.P. Miskowski

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