On Zoran Drvenkar’s “Sorry” (2009).

A friendly warning to those who sampled the first chapters of Zoran Drvenkar’s Sorry on Kindle and thought the prologue was merely cartoonishly gory, in the hee-hee-that’s-gotta-hurt-as-you-dig-into-the-bucket-for-more-popcorn Hostel-like vein: the novel gets progressively disturbing and repugnant, in ways that get under your skin. I don’t mean that as an (appropriate) pun either; the crime that precipitates the narrative is set up to be deliberately nasty.

The novel’s premise is simple but high-concept. An enterprising startup — the best thing to call this group of young entrepreneurs — comes up with a novel idea: they’re hired to apologize to wronged people. (If they had combined this with a mobile app and geolocation ability, they’d be going public by now.) The insulted, the cuckolded, the wrongfully terminated: all are visited by the Sorry team with apologies and/or financial renumeration.

The idea could have fueled a novel alone, as a comment on modernity and emotional detachment. But Drvenkar dispenses with the central theme fairly early, turning it into a cat-and-mouse thriller with philosophical underpinnings.

Sorry, as cleverly plotted as it is, requires not a little suspension of disbelief from the reader. If you ever wondered, say, how Jigsaw from the Saw series managed to drug and kidnap all those people without anyone seeing — well, this isn’t the book for you. The logistics of surveillance and corpse disposal just aren’t covered here.

Part of the fun, though, is seeing how much mileage Drvenkar gets out of his sly use of pronouns: while the story is told mostly in the third person, there’s also a “you” being addressed and an “I” who’s relating another part of the story. But who are they, and who are you? Are the events flashbacks or flash forwards, or are they happening in the present? It’s a clever tactic, perpetually destabilizing the reader’s frame of reference. But its most crucial effect is that it subtly implicates the reader herself with every use of the second person: you kill, and you forgive, and not necessarily in that order.

The pronoun use is clever, but it contributes to a faint sense of a flimsy and judgmental morality infecting the proceedings: can you, the reader, still forgive, especially after being dragged through hell for the past few hundred pages? The ending isn’t nearly as satisfying for someone who expected the equivalent of a cinematic twist, as it ends exactly how you thought it would.


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