M, a 32-stone monster who is trying to kill his son Daniel, and axe-wielding Hosiah Regolith Two Swords rampage through Laurie Avadis’ blood-curdling Ex.
Family lawyer Avadis, presumably with nightmarish memories from a 30-year-career representing children in care proceedings and women who have suffered domestic abuse, writes that M ‘had no template for self-respect, he was a child who had no access to childhood’.
So eight-year-old Daniel, daily on the abyss of destruction, becomes a kind of Homeric hero taking on monsters – and there are early mentions of Charybdis and Scylla.
Why the massive M, who we are told has a ‘less than symbiotic relationship with food’, would want to kill his own son perhaps rests on the observation that ‘he survived life in his parents’ world where there were a hundred different words for pain’. And when he is 12, M nearly shoots dead his father with a loaded 10mm Glock handgun which he receives as a birthday present. Paradoxically, M’s favourite film is It’s A Wonderful Life, which he has watched more than 3,000 times.
Even at school, the D’Oily Cart Academy, Daniel finds no respite from danger. Headteacher Caldwell Bynes tells him ‘you are a rabbit in the crosshairs… an atrocity in waiting’, and Daniel also suffers at the hands of school bully Dorsal Grellman. When Daniel visits M’s father, Jonah – who killed his first victim with an ironing board – to ask for help he is advised to ‘take an axe to [his father’s] head while he sleeping’.
Author: Laurie Avadis
Amid all the suffering, the over-the-top villains and black humour – invoking the works of Martin Amis and Carl Hiaasen – Avadis makes a serious point. For Daniel there is something impoverished ‘about an adult’s language when they [try] to describe the pain suffered by a child’ and their inability ‘to navigate a path between the verdant groves and nuances which [define] a newly formed personality’.
A combustible novel, full of crackling dialogue and menacing characters with neatly woven, snappily told backstories, Ex pulls you in and never lets go.
Nicholas Goodman is a sub-editor at the Law Society Gazette