Agony Column Home
Agony Column Review Archive

Random Acts of Senseless Violence

Jack Womack

Grove Press / Atlantic Monthly Press

US Trade Paperback

ISBN 0-802-13424-6

Publication Date: 09-15-1994

256 Pages; $14.00

Date Reviewed: 06-09-03

Reviewed by: Rick Kleffel © 2003



General Fiction, Science Fiction, Horror


The voice of an innocent can be a powerful tool in a talented writer's hands. Readers need look no farther than Jack Womack's 'Random Acts of Senseless Violence' for an excellent and enjoyable example of a child's guide to the apocalypse. More than most forms, the child's voice demands a strong and consistent level of prose writing. It might sound easy, but it is in fact very difficult. Womack is more than up to the challenge. His page-turning 1994 novel effectively uses the voice of Lola Hart, a 12-year old girl living with her nuclear family in New York City, to lend his catastrophic vision a timeless quality. Even better, he manages to make his faux memoir a propulsive reading experience. As he rends the reader's heart, Womack keeps the pages turning. It's a remarkable piece of fiction.

The voice of Lola Hart is the cornerstone of this novel, and Womack's prose skills enable him to create a large cast of vivid characters. Lola's father is a writer who is forced to take employment in a large bookstore. Lola's mother is Prozac casualty who nonetheless loves her children; her sister, whom she affectionately calls 'Boob' is a traumatized child who might not make it out of the gate. Womack manages to convey a world of subtlety through Lola's unintentional observations. The nuances of family life come alive in a complex texture of words. Lola's language suggests lots of details to the reader that Lola herself does not comprehend. Womack doesn't overplay this oft-used technique. Instead he wields it with great precision in a fashion that is extremely pleasurable to read.

As the novel starts, Lola's world is that of a middle-class family on the edge of viability. In the course of the novel, the Harts plunge over that edge. Events in the world that are shaping the lives of the family come slowly into focus, and there's nary a reader out there who won't be impressed by Womack's vision of what was his near future and has become our present. Prescient predictions really don't matter a whit when it comes to writing effective speculative fiction. Orwell's '1984' remains as effective today as it was in 1948, when it was written. Still, as comprehensive and clear a vision as Womack brings to 'Random Acts of Senseless Violence' is surely to be lauded. When Womack's near future in fact becomes the past it will still retain every bit of its power; right now it's simply, terrifyingly true.

Of course, Lola's voice is an excellent window through which Womack can show evil and horror in all its most terrifying forms. Womack has created a truly subtle and horrifying tale of economic terror. The plunge of Lola's family from the middle class downward will disturb all but the richest readers, whose only worry will be that we'll come to tear them from their houses as we burn them down. But Womack isn't just using the innocent to portray evil. Lola slowly becomes corrupted herself, finding her "reptile brain" works just fine when it comes time for her to perform the 'Random Acts of Senseless Violence'. Womack builds his plot expertly and subtly, pulling the reader into a vortex of fear and despair. Prepare to have your emotions wrenched when you read this novel.

'Random Acts of Senseless Violence' is the kind of novel that could have seemed dated the day after its publication. Dystopian visions of the near future are very vulnerable to tomorrow's headlines. Womack's is written in prose of such high quality that it's practically headline-proof. One can credit Grove Press as well for an usually finely produced trade paperback that makes reading this novel all the easier. But 'Random Acts of Senseless Violence' has more than easy-reading going for it. It has great writing that compels the reader to enjoy a future that seems just as unpleasant as anything unfolding on the all-night news.