Cameron Raynes (MidnightSun Publishing) 2016, 261pp, RRP Paperback $24.99, E-Book $9.99
In First Person Shooter, Adelaide author and screenwriter Cameron Raynes explores the contemporary experience of online game addiction through the likeable but plagued protagonist Jayden. But to narrow this novel down to that one theme would be to do it and Raynes’ skilful and compelling prose a disservice.
Fifteen year old Jayden lives in Australian small-town nowhere. He plays Call of Duty too much for his dad’s liking. And like the repetitive Whack! Whack! Whack! of the automatic weapons he fires at online enemies, he stutters. Jayden’s stutter prevents him from telling anyone what he’s thinking, feeling or needing. He restricts himself to one-word answers whenever he can and school is a torture – especially Indonesian language class where he’s expected to speak up all too often.
Fortunately Jayden has his beloved dog Charlie, his wise and kind neighbour Nigel and the girl next door, Shannon. With Shannon Jayden feels a complex mix of comfort and familiarity with a budding romantic desire.
The town in which Jayden and Shannon live is under siege from a bikie gang making meth in a run-down old farmhouse. The gang are in competition with Pete, Shannon’s sort-of stepbrother. Pete is a psychopath and on the warpath, looking to menace and intimidate and hurt anyone who gets in his way. Especially Shannon and her mum, who shot dead Pete’s father.
Jayden is caught in the middle of this, wanting to protect his friend and worried about why his father is mixed up with the bikies. Meanwhile, he has a presentation to give on the last day of school and poor Charlie is getting sicker by the day, slowly dying of old age.
As a protagonist, Jayden is flawed but insightful, deep but silent, smart but inhibited, brave without knowing it. It’s a delight to be inside his head – it feels like a private privilege to know all the things he cannot say, and despite the shooter games, Jayden has a poet’s heart. Shannon is more than a foil for Jayden. She is also profoundly drawn, satisfyingly non-stereotypical, sharp as a tack and handy with a gun. All the minor characters are memorable and nourish the story.
Raynes has packed a punch with his first novel. Themes of death, loyalty, friendship and love are moving and powerful but never detract from the storytelling. Raynes’ experience as a short story writer and screenwriter are clear – his prose is efficient and evocative, with a flow that makes stopping at the next page or chapter near impossible.
There is a sweetness to this book, which deals with so much trauma and degradation, that ultimately leaves the reader feeling they know the world better and still can maintain hope in it.
First Person Shooter is available through the MidnightSun Publishing website. Click HERE to purchase your copy.