Books Reviews

Start the New Year on a High Note with DO NOT GO ON by Bryan Furuness

Do Not Go On, the most recent novel by Bryan Furuness (pub. Black Lawrence Press, Dec. 2019), quite literally starts with a bang. “Her old life ended the night someone pried open a window in her home and rolled a bomb into her parents’ bedroom.” (9)

It’s a forthright line that packs explosive power itself and serves as the perfect pacemaker for the rest of the novel. Do Not Go On clocks in at just under 250 pages, but if someone were to tell you the plot at the bus stop it would sound more like an epic novel. Not a word is wasted in this thrilling tale, which spans years and continents to create an incredibly compelling and original narrative that’ll have even the most deliberate readers racing to turn the pages.

Ana Easterday is the portrait of the 1990s American teenager. “She loved jangly bracelets, five or six on each wrist. ‘What’s up, slut?’ was the way she greeted her best friend Danielle. She…practiced dance moves in her bedroom mirror, and consistently tied up the phone until her mother surrendered and gave Ana her own line” (8). When she’s forced to move with her father to a podunk town in Indiana as a direct result of the bombing, she reacts the same way any teenager would: she wants to get the hell out.

But she can’t. Ana and her father, Ben, must become dutiful participants in the Witness Protection Program until her father can testify against his old employer, a man named Veedy who is wanted for money laundering and much more serious crimes revealed later in the story. When Ben falls out of a tree and suffers a serious brain injury, Ana decides she has to do something if she ever wants a shot at a normal life. In a series of clandestine maneuvers, she goes against all WITSEC protocol and makes contact with the men who want her father dead. Her proposal is a simple one–she’ll do anything they ask if they can set things right and her family can come home. She becomes the ball in a deadly game of ping pong between the FBI and a criminal syndicate, risking her life and the lives of everyone she knows in the process.

The biggest strength of Do Not Go On is its narrative balance. As Ana spends her time duping federal agents and trying to find a semblance of normalcy in a foreign community, readers are given insight to the world before the bomb. Some of the greatest parts in the novel are flashbacks about Ana’s father– from his simple start as a moneyrunner to his ascent into restauranteur and money launderer–Furuness inserts readers on the ground level of a criminal organization, slowly revealing details that become more sinister with every page. (What’s more impressive is that some of the bad guys are likeable; in chapter four, the hitman, Zeeshan, is seen reading The Fix: Break Your Addiction in Ten Minutes because he wants to stop killing people.) Both narrative arcs play off each other expertly; as one storyline moves forward, the other remains stuck in dramatic suspension while the stakes in each are equally high. It’s a perfect ebb and flow until everything collides in a dramatic crescendo. The give and take of the two primary narrative lines is what makes this book so hard to put down.

If narrative strength is yin, then character development is yang, and Do Not Go On has both in spades. From Ana’s sardonic wit to Zeeshan’s surprisingly big heart, each major character in the novel is layered and complex in ways that are difficult to predict. Characters can be frustratingly dense at times and oddly prescient at others, but the swings are handled with care and craft. Furuness writes high schoolers shockingly well for a middle-aged man, and believability is everything in a novel that places its cast in such extraordinary situations.

If a story clicks on both levels–a well-paced plot and deep characters with which to move it– it’s done its job. If that story happens to make readers feel the entire spectrum of human emotion while moving at breakneck speed, even better. Do Not Go On is a story that will stick– Ana Easterday is indelible and the things that happen to her are riveting. It’s a short, pithy novel that is easy to devour in a day or two that’ll leave you thinking about it weeks later.

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