A journey into the darkest recesses of the human soul – that’s the best way to describe John “Ribby” Ribner’s new novella, “World So Dark.”
Set in modern day mid-Michigan, “World So Dark” is centered on the criminal exploits of former professional boxer Jake Mears, whose first act after getting out of prison is to go right back to the same people and places that led to his downfall. But this time, Jake has a plan, or so he says; he’s angling to make that “one big score,” the one that will make up for all the time – and money – he lost while behind bars. Will Jake emerge from this treacherous criminal underworld a wealthy man? Or will his best efforts earn him a one-way ticket to the grave? The answers, and many more questions, are in John’s book.
“I’ve always thought of myself as a movie director, and my books are my films, even if the only theatre they play in is the reader’s head,” said John. “I’ve kicked around the idea for ‘World So Dark’ ever since I saw David Lynch’s ‘Blue Velvet’ back in 1986. That film blew my mind: it introduced me to a whole genre of film called ‘neo-noir,’ and I was obsessed with the idea of writing books in that genre. There was something about stories featuring antiheroes trapped in dangerous situations that appealed to me.”
While John says he had written a few chapters of “World So Dark” as a journalism student at Central Michigan University, he didn’t get serious about the book until earlier this year. “I had a good start on it back then, but it was still lacking something,” he said. “It needed some kind of unique twist to elevate it above the standard crime fiction novel. Then one day, I found what I was looking for, and the book came together very quickly after that.”
After an intro chapter in which Jake Mears talks with police detectives in a hospital room, the novel becomes a first-person account of the events leading up to drug deals gone bad and murder. John’s taut writing style combined with his ability to become Jake Mears quickly draws the reader into his criminal underworld and all the disillusionment, violence and corruption common to such an environment. As can be expected with most crime fiction, “World So Dark” uses colorful language to discuss some rather adult themes, not the least of which are America’s prison system, the effects of drug addiction and the downside of friendship and loyalty.
Perhaps the most unique aspect of “World So Dark” is that it’s not just a crime fiction story; it also contains what John calls an “encoded mystery.” Instead of focusing on a detective’s efforts to solve the crimes, John coaxes the reader into becoming the detective with subtle hints and clues. As the character of Jake Mears stares into the sunset, quite literally, the attentive reader will no doubt have solved this “whodunit”, and he or she might be very surprised to discover what really happened on that fateful day in Bay City, MI when Mears tried to get the money, the girl and the chance to start over. Don’t try asking John what happens, though; he’s sticking to his strict “no-spoilers” policy.
“There’s something I love about asking, ‘So, what happened?’ of someone who’s just finished reading ‘World So Dark,’” John said. “Even if they get it – and most people do – the most they’ll get out of me is a smile and the catchphrase, ‘The brighter the light, the darker the shadow.’ If they didn’t quite put the pieces together, I tell them to read it again. After all, it’s a novella, which is at least half the size of the average novel, and people have told me that they loved reading it a second time just to see if there were clues they missed and how those clues might fit into the puzzle. As a writer, it’s pleasing to hear that they’ve enjoyed my book so much that they want to read it again.”
“World So Dark” is certainly a departure from “Ribby’s” articles in ist Magazine. It’s available in e-book format for the Kindle and a printed version is also available on Amazon.com.
As ist Magazine’s managing editor, Sherron edits all articles written by staff writers and the publication’s illustrious group of editorial contributors, as well as writing occasional content. She has been with the magazine since its inception in 1997.
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