When I first started reading Mark Rapacz’ Boondoggle (280 Steps), I did not have a good feeling. I did not want this book to go all cliché on me — if I wanted something like that I’d watch an Angelina Jolie movie. But it didn’t take Rapacz to show me that wasn’t going to happen. Note: I should have a little more trust in the publisher 280 Steps.
Mack, the main character, has joined a company that kills mosquitos in Minnesota. He is an aimless twenty-something, grieving over his father’s sudden death and he lives with his mother who has been stuck in housecoat shock for months since the death of her husband. Rapacz opens Mack’s inner dialogues to the reader as we learn of his anxiety about . . . well, everything.
He was always reminded of that when he and his parents went southside to visit his uncles on his mother’s side. He couldn’t even keep up with those men. They all had blue-collar jobs, spoke blue-collar ways, and hand opinions about sports, politics, and women. Mack didn’t have opinions about any of that. He knew his uncles thought he was soft, thought he was too rich, living in that rich neighborhood, with a dad who had a rich job and friendly face and who seemed to get along with everybody.
It was all weakness to them. The only thing that protected Mack from his uncles was his mom and his aunts. They all adored him. He was their Little Mack. Sweet and quiet and when he was young, the cutest kid in the room. He grew up, sort of. Got to be about an inch taller than his aunts, which seemed manly enough. His uncles were all six-foot something. His dad was also six-foot something. Mack didn’t know how he missed out on that.
Boondoggle focuses on a few mosquito-killing teams who bust “their ass so folks could comfortably roast pig parts.” But then they discover a body of a young woman in the swamps off the interstate — it’s not the first and it won’t be the last. Even though they helped the police, they knew there was something amiss, they knew they were in deep shit. As one co-worker said, “It’s the forbidden triangle of the corrupt. Mob. Government. Corporation. And we’re the pawns. Don’t you see it? We’re the henchman.”
Boondoggle could have gone down the road of a New York Times Best Seller, but it did not. It was better than that. Rapacz has written a wonderful character study of a man who has difficulties in connecting with society though he continually tries to do so.