“The Lockpicker”: Leonard Chang’s Ready-for-Primetime Novel

He owes tough guys money and he doesn’t care whom he kills to get free of this debt. Everyone is trapped — either in a failing marriage, in debt, in a race against time, in the past, or in dreams for the future. Jake steps back into Eugene’s life at a time when Eugene’s career is at an end: the business he helped build is now foundering, and so is his marriage. We’re going to steal diamonds. Chang’s novel is, indeed, a labyrinth from which his characters can’t seem to escape. After a childhood riddled abuse, he’s become a bit of a sociopath. When it comes to family, Jake Ahn, the lockpicking protagonist, has no real emotional ties. You do whatever it takes, that’s my philosophy.”
Stealing comes easy to Jake, and Chang does a superb job of mining her protagonist’s trade for captivating literary material, describing the use of various drills and lock picks with a researcher’s precision. The Brother. Whereas Jake is clearly acting out his brokenness through his profession, his older brother, Eugene, is quietly dysfunctional, masquerading as a successful businessman with the perfect, beautiful wife. Jake, his target, is on borrowed time. ¤
Shonda Buchanan is the author of Equipoise: Poems from Goddess Country (San Francisco Bay Press, July 2017) and editor of the poetry anthology, Voices from Leimert Park Redux (Harriet Tubman Press, October 2017). These zombies provide a key to Jake’s childhood wounds, and also explain how he became such an adept lockpicker. She is attracted by the finesse and subterfuge of his thievery, the excitement of his life. Both men are emotional train wrecks waiting to happen. I wasn’t quite sure whether I’d accidently picked up The Walking Dead, until the narrative turned to Jake’s obsessive thoughts about the heist-gone-bad. She quits her job with no real direction. She hasn’t been happy in her marriage for a long time. She is a girl eager to find purpose and build a home after the death of her parents. The Wife. In truth, the brothers’ lives are on disastrous parallel tracks. I don’t care. On the surface, his is the happy life of a Korean American who made good. As the plot develops, it’s clear that the zombies are Jake’s recurring hallucinations, residual traumas from when his father who would lock him and Eugene in the basement while he brutally beat their mother. Jake believes he’s left Bobby for dead, but he’s wrong. She wants in. He remains a defeated little   boy in the basement, practicing karate moves he would never use to stand up to his father. Jake’s thievery and detachment are matched by Eugene’s failed marriage and descent into alcoholism, which he inherited from their father. And Chang is just as deft in his handling of drama: Jake and Rachel’s secret, stolen moments of hungry, wanting sex; the sense of secret betrayal that hangs in the air the moment they encounter one another, reminiscent of scenes between Raylan Givens and Ava Crowder, his nemesis’s wife, on the FX series Justified, where Chang was a writer and producer. But will that door ever open? His only real blood tie, a reminder that he belongs to something larger, is his brother. And Jake, who does stand up for himself one night, is beaten unconscious; he awakes to embark on a life of crime. Eugene is emotionally unavailable, so she becomes enamored with Jake and is drawn in by the secrets he’s hiding. Jake arrives at his brother’s house having been shot by his heist partner, Bobby. Through it all, she herself hopes, but fails, to overcome her numbness: “I’m getting a divorce and I don’t care. What really gives this book its sense of urgency and suspense is the relationship between Jake and Rachel, Eugene’s soon-to-be-ex-wife. We cannot help but root for these rich, flawed characters as they struggle to free themselves from the traumas of childhood. Rachel is an odd saving grace for Jake, a beacon of light at the end of his tunnel, and someone to run to when a job goes bad. But it is also a gripping, dramatic read. We get glimpses of her childhood. His job becomes a metaphor: he’s trying to unlock the basement door — the closed spaces of his childhood — and that door may open on a whole new life. Bobby is a true psychopath. The infertile Rachel is a lost soul in the woods. (He’s currently a writer-producer for the same network’s series Snowfall, conceived by John Singleton.)
The book opens with Jake being pursued by zombies. OCTOBER 27, 2017
LEONARD CHANG’S The Lockpicker is both fun and heavy. And they do, when Jake drops in for an unexpected “visit.”
The Hitman. I’m never going to have kids. I don’t care.” Still, she does have ethical concerns, and can’t fully understand Jake’s life:
“Doesn’t it bother you that you take all these things people saved for?”
“A little.”
“But it’s every man for himself, I guess.”
“Something like that … My life would suck if I didn’t try to make myself happy. She is currently working on a collection of essays about the first migration of Free People of Color from the Southeast to the Midwest. It reads like it’s ripe for television adaptation, with intriguing, layered characters that are much more than their archetypes suggest:
The Crook.