Marie’s Reading: “The Intern’s Handbook” by Shane Kuhn

Greetings from the History Center, friends!  The archivist is away at a conference, so I’m spending my afternoons this week pretending I know how to fly this thing.

Penguins Can't Fly!

At the very least it’s a quiet break to get a lot of desk-work done without constant phone calls and other interruptions.  And one thing I wanted to get done interruption-free was to tell you about Shane Kuhn’s novel The Intern’s Handbook.  Follow me after the jump to learn more!

Or stay here and look at that screengrab from The Critic.  I don’t know about you, but I find that the longer I stare the funnier it gets.

The Intern's HandbookI picked this up because I really liked the originality of the hook: John Lago, twenty-five, is New York’s most successful hit-man.  He works for an organization called HR Inc., which hires out assassins under the guise of supplying companies with  interns.  Why interns?  Because, as those of us who have been there well know, interns are invisible.  Completely off-the-radar and forgettable, but also trusted with secrets and access to higher-ups.  The perfect cover for an assassin.  The Intern’s Handbook is Lago’s legacy for future workers at HR Inc., and he doles out advice and trade secrets as he describes what happened during his last assignment.

Part handbook, part confession, part redemption story, this is a fun book.  The bits where Lago is arrogantly describing how awesome he is at what he does for the benefit of new recruits has the air of a high-school senior giving freshmen a tour of the gym or something.  Those bits were my favorites, and Kuhn clearly had fun with them.  Mostly, though, this is an action thriller complete with undercover agents, bluffs and double-bluffs, and fight scenes galore.   The climactic shoot-out in particular is fantastic.

Toward the end, when Lago’s job is done, there’s a chance for some character growth and redemption.  I won’t give away what happens, but Lago finds himself with newfound connections and an identity, when he’s built his life on having neither.  The ending is left a bit vague and open-ended, which felt consistent to me for Lago as a character.  He does terrible things.  But is he a terrible person?  Lago himself believes in his own terribleness, or at least desperately wants us to think he does.  That’s something else that’s fun and adds depth to Lago if you look for it–the whole book is in the first person, and it’s hard to tell exactly how reliable this guy is.  Especially when he’s talking about himself.  None of this is explicit, of course, and it’s easy enough to ignore, but I thought it was a nice touch.  Even if it was accidental!

The best way to think about this novel is as an action movie in book form.  Kuhn’s background is in movies, and it really shows.  The man knows how to build a set piece, time a scene, and write dialogue that just flies.  The action sequences are very well-done and have a cinematic feel to them.  There’s no real time spent on reflection or introspection or building relationships.  The reader gets the feeling Kuhn is relying on his characters, dialogue, and situations to get these things across (again, showing the whole screenwriting background).  Sometimes it works better than others, but it’s fun either way.

If you like action movies, this is the book for you.  The pacing is good, the jokes land well, the protagonist is extremely good at what he does and is arrogant with his success in a way that works, and there’s some hope for redemption at the end.

–Marie, who got all the way through writing this without one single solitary interruption.  Take note of where you were Wednesday, August 13, 2014, at 1:38 pm EST.  Because such a wonder is NEVER going to happen again.



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