Monday, June 8, 2015

Book Review: "If Jack Had" by Steven Rappaport

Full disclosure: I received an advance copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an unbiased review.

"Some people choose a profession. For others, there is a calling. Of course, I had never questioned what I did. I was born to it. I loved it."

Jack was a journalist for the New York Times, but that's not the profession he's speaking of. Instead, he's referring to his "second," more profitable job—as a hit man for the Russian mob.

In Steven Rappaport's If Jack Had, his now-elderly protagonist, whose body and mind are in the midst of daily decline, looks back on his rich, full life. He had a beautiful, devoted wife who was always the love of his life, four children of whom he is proud, wonderful grandchildren. But it is his many years as a hired gun for a Russian mobster and his family that he thinks about most. But make no mistake: these aren't the regrets of a dying man, more the marveling of a life well lived, even if at times it was a bit more exciting than he'd have liked.

This book is a rollicking ride through Jack's life, from being shuttled between two parents who wanted little to do with their child to finding nurturing love from his stepmother, how he pursued his "freelance" career, and some of his most notable assignments. It's also tremendously reflective, a man looking back at his legacy, so to speak, and the few times he actually struggled with what he did. Sure, this is a story of a cold-blooded killer, but it's also the story of a flawed man with a tremendous capacity for love and a tremendous need to be loved. Jack is definitely a colorful, complex, multidimensional character.

If Jack Had is a breezy, fun read. Sometimes it spent a little too much time dwelling on his father's behavior, but it is understandable given the effect his parents' behavior had on his life. And when I read that Rappaport wrote this book to create a life for his son, who died suddenly at at age 40 from an unknown neurological disorder, the book took on a little more gravitas. Definitely a fun one.

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