In his debut novel, Snyder offers a hearty dose of lad lit. Russell Fink sells copiers-a job he hates-and is engaged to a controlling wannabe actress he doesn't love. He still lives at home, has lost faith in his televangelist, miracle-working father and occasionally doses the family dog with alcohol from his mother's stash. Russell's twin sister, Katie, died of leukemia when they were young, and he's blamed himself ever since. The story is a bit helter-skelter: Russell's brother, Peter, has disappeared and may have been kidnapped. Russell believes his dog was poisoned and is intent on tracking down the animal's killer. He breaks things off with his fiancée, but will he finally admit that he loves his longtime friend Geri? His dad has applied for a new ministry position and needs Russell's help to get the job, but will they make amends? Throw in a number of secrets, some questions of religious faith, a move out of his mom's house and a move in with a perpetually cold new roommate who may or may not be a scientist for NASA, and you have a fairly nutty story. Snyder's writing is inventive and fun, but there are too many crazy characters and rampant story lines, and it may be a bit too edgy and complex for the Christian chick lit crowd. (Mar.)Copyright 2007Reed Business Information
My Name Is Russell Finkby Michael Snyder
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Russell Fink is twenty-six years old and determined to salvage a job he hates so he can finally move out of his parents’ house for good. He's convinced he gave his twin sister cancer when they were nine years old. And his crazy fiancée refuses to accept the fact that their engagement really is over. Then Sonny, his allegedly clairvoyant basset hound, is found murdered. The ensuing amateur investigation forces Russell to confront several things at once—the enormity of his family's dysfunction, the guy stalking his family, and his long-buried feelings for a most peculiar love interest. At its heart, My Name Is Russell Fink is a comedy, with sharp dialogue, characters steeped in authenticity, romance, suspense, and fresh humor. With a postmodern style similar to Nick Hornby and Douglas Coupland, the author explores reconciliation, forgiveness, and faith in the midst of tragedy. No amount of neurosis or dysfunction can derail God's redemptive purposes.
Russell Fink is a quirky, socially awkward 26 year old, emotionally scarred from convincing himself that he caused the cancer death of his nine-year-old sister, Katie. He lives at home with his parents, has a job he hates, and has as his only confidante an elderly basset hound named Sonny, who appears to be able to predict the future. Sonny's suspicious death causes Russell to launch his own investigation into who took his best friend's life. Biting humor and an offbeat, dysfunctional protagonist shape this story of reconciliation and rediscovering God's plan for each person's life. This title may appeal to fans of Ray Blackston (Flabbergasted ) or Brad Whittington (Welcome to Fred ) or to readers who like a dose of eccentric humor mixed into their inspirational fiction. Recommended for public libraries.Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Read an ExcerptMy Name Is Russell Fink
By Michael Snyder Zondervan Copyright © 2008 Michael Snyder
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Chapter One Thursday
My conscience must be out of order.
Otherwise I'd feel at least a tinge of guilt as I consider making this call. Only two reasons exist for dialing this number: first, to inform Max Hengle III that I'm about to land a big sale, and to say this is rare would be an understatement. It's happened exactly twice. And neither transaction was the result of any Herculean effort on my part, more like fortuitous timing or dumb luck. But this did not prevent me from taking full credit. Sales is a tough business.
The second reason for dialing this number - the egregiously more common reason-is to call in sick. One could argue hypochondria, but I prefer preventive maintenance. Still, I contend that over the life of my career, these measures will have made me a happier and more productive employee. And who wouldn't want a whole stable full of happy and productive employees?
I hear a click, followed by a habitual throat clearing, then the voice.
"Max Hengle speaking."
"Good morning, sir." I pause to adjust the timbre of my voice to a spot between grogginess and pain, careful not to overdo it. "It's Russell here, and I'm afraid I won't be able to make it in this morning."
"Uh-huh," he says, fingers clacking on a keyboard in the background. Mr. Hengle prides himself on his ability to multitask, but the reality is, he's terrible at it. For all he knows, I just told him I saw his daughter on Springer. When his brain catches up, he says, "Pardon?"
"That's right, feeling pretty lousy, sir." And this is not entirely untrue. Fact is, the more I talk, the worse I feel. The causes range from indigestion to pre-cancerous moles. I cough twice and add, "Pretty lousy."
"Doesn't this make your third absence this month?"
"March has never been my month, you know, healthwise."
"Nor saleswise. My patience is wearing thin, son."
"As well it should, sir."
Mr. Hengle sighs long and loud, purging himself of all things Russell.
I've always dreamed of making history, but I pray this isn't it. In the sixty-year history of Hengle's Supply, no one's ever been fired. Although firing me would make Mr. Hengle's life much easier, he's convinced that doing so would create some bad mojo or throw his karma out of whack, mainly because he owes my dad a pretty big favor. Still, I feel bad. So I silently and solemnly swear to resign as soon as I can claw my way out of debt, come up with the security deposit and first-and-last month's rent on my own apartment, and move out of my parents' house.
"There's going to be some changes around here, Russell. I just don't see how we can continue on like this, do you?"
Since I'm hardwired to respond to rhetorical questions with sarcasm, I remain mute, save for the sound of my stubble scraping against the phone's mouthpiece. It sounds like static.
"Tell you what, Russell." His weary, patronizing whine is nothing new, though the trace of sincerity is. "Why don't you take tomorrow off as well? Then you'll have the whole weekend to recuperate."
"That's very generous, sir."
"I was aiming for sarcastic and condescending."
"Oh, well, thanks anyway, I guess." I should just hang up and stop the bleeding, but pangs of self-preservation urge my vocal cords into action. "Did I mention to you that Tyler, Billingham & Sneed is right on the cusp of issuing a huge purchase order?"
"About a week ago, as I recall. The last time you called in sick. I fully expect to see you at Monday morning's staff meeting where, by the way, you'll get to meet our new office manager." He makes "office manager" sound ominous, as if Charles Manson will be handling payroll and implementing office policy. "Are we understood?"
Over the dial tone, I say, "Hardly ever, sir. Hardly ever."
* * *
On the way to Dr. Kozinski's office I decide to stop in to Tyler, Billingham & Sneed and see Geri-typically my first call of the week. It's a routine boon for my flagging confidence, but this is more of an emergency visit. If I'm going to hide behind my potentially career-defining order, I guess it makes some sense to check on its status. As usual, I bring along two giant vanilla lattes from the Bean Bag.
Geri's on the phone when I get there so I set her coffee down in front of her and scan the pastry tray. I select a bloated éclair, take a bite, and wait. The reception area is done up in blocks of mahogany, with haughty magazines and rental plants. I suspect the pretension is piped in with the Muzak.
Geri's voice has barely trailed off when I hear a loud slurping sound. I turn around and grin in expectation of a hearty "thank you."
"Ack. I can taste the caffeine."
"Is that a problem?"
"I'm temporarily off caffeine. Except for an occasional dark chocolate of course." She pops the plastic lid off, uses her finger to spoon out a dollop of whipped cream, and sticks it into her mouth. I watch her freckles dance as she talks, trying not to be too obvious. "So, what're you doing here on your day off?"
"How did you know I was off today?"
"For starters, you're in jeans." Geri absently straightens a small framed photograph on her desk-a formal-wear shot of her and some guy, presumably her former fiancé. But he's been scratched out. "Plus I called your office looking for you earlier, and they told me you were out sick."
"What if I said I came by here to check on the status of that big order?"
"What if I said that's why I called your office this morning?" She motions me forward and glances around as if we're being watched. "One of those new salesgirls from Office Something-Or-Other called on us last week. And she really got Mr. Billingham's attention."
"That's no great feat." Billingham is an ogler par excellence.
"I think the partners might be seriously considering her offer."
My salesman's smile remains intact while panic leaches into my bloodstream. Geri's law firm plans to replace over a hundred-thousand-dollars worth of copiers, scanners, and swanky office furniture, and until this morning I had no competition. The commission check's already been earmarked for a down payment on a new apartment and my two loudest creditors.
"Must be your imagination, Geri. What could one of those big-box conglomerates possibly have to offer that I don't?"
"The salesgirl looks like a supermodel."
"There's always that."
"And she brought the pastries this morning."
So much for the éclair tasting better than normal. "I thought you said she came by last week."
Geri uses the photograph as a shield. "She did. She dropped in and introduced herself last Friday. Then she came back yesterday, then again this morning. Now she's in there meeting the other partners."
I stare at Baxter Billingham's office door, mushed éclair coating my tongue.
"Sorry to have to be the one to tell you. But I thought you at least ought to be aware. So you can plan your strategy."
Even if I were capable of devising a strategy, I couldn't compete with the image of a swimsuit model galvanizing a trio of salivating attorneys with a sultry PowerPoint presentation behind Billingham's door. This is not an account that I prepare for. Rather, I perform routine maintenance, stroke egos, and make small talk with the partners-the Braves and bad TV sitcoms with Tyler, UT football and sailboats with Billingham, the stock market with Sneed.
This account is mine. Or at least it always has been.
I take another spiteful bite of the éclair, and a cool glop of Bavarian cream squirts out onto my chin. Geri laughs and hands me a Kleenex.
Then the supermodel emerges and makes some comment about the quarterback for the White Sox. The partners all guffaw and slap each other on the back. Suddenly, I feel like I'm on a bad sitcom, where she's the starlet and I'm the hapless, beer-swilling cousin who lives over the garage.
Geri rolls her eyes, and for a few brief moments we're bound together by mutual disgust. She has no patience for vacuous stickwomen, even less for the men who do. My issues are less noble-plain old-fashioned fear and greed.
* * *
The waiting room at Nashville City Medical Clinic is much less pretentious, but the magazines are several months out of date, with pages bent and crusted with all manner of bacteria. So I ignore them and steal glances at the other patients, making sketches of them on a legal pad. It's an old habit, inventing imaginary ailments for complete strangers, then rendering their symptoms with flurried pen strokes. Normally, I show my work to Alyssa and see if she can accurately diagnose the afflictions. I draw the burly guy in coveralls with a puckered and humiliated look on his face, with cartoonish motion lines implying constant shifting as if he can't quite get comfortable in his chair, and tiny flaming tendrils rising from his nether regions. When I can't think of a way to portray itching, I move on to the young girl in the opposite corner.
She is staring up at the TV bolted to the wall, but it's obvious her mind is viewing her own private soap opera. She's pretty but mousy, and keeps telling herself she has the flu, but her brain is an adding machine counting the days since her last period. I'm darkening the wrinkles on her forehead when my phone erupts.
The patients all glance up at me, the observer observed. It rings again and I study the number.
My greeting is polite but terse, a funeral whisper meant to convey urgent business. A tone that Alyssa completely misses. Or chooses to ignore.
"Hey babe." Her voice is too loud, too happy. "Good day so far?"
"Not bad." I get up, walk toward the door that opens into the hallway, and narrowly dodge a zombielike toddler with two streams of green goo on his upper lip. "I'm kind of in the middle of something here."
"Well ex-cuse me. I guess you're in some big meeting-selling what? Packing peanuts? Desk blotters?" My fiancée has reduced my livelihood to hawking trivial gadgets that fuel the corporate monoliths responsible for starving Third World kids, botching the environment, and exploiting generations of Asian laborers.
In the hallway now, I pitch my voice just above a whisper. "Do you need something? Or did you call just to make fun of my job?"
Someone's calling my name through the closed door; it sounds like Cassandra, my favorite nurse. But the voice is garbled, like Charlie Brown's teacher.
"Seriously," I say. "What do you need?"
"Ooh, you sound so sexy when you're mad."
"Listen, Alyssa. I really do need to go. They're waiting." The implied subject of they is on the darker side of honesty.
The nurse calls my name again, louder and more clearly this time, definitely Cassandra. I silently count to ten before I push back through the door into the waiting room.
"Alright, I can tell when I'm not wanted. But you need to knock off a little early tomorrow. I need some assistance setting things up for Saturday."
It irks me the way she assumes that I'll just blow off work whenever she asks. As if her whims automatically trump my responsibilities. Never mind that I am, in fact, blowing off work; one could argue that I've trained her to think that way. I guess I just resent her attitude about it.
"I'll see what I can do. But I'll have to call you later and let you know if I can break away." Another half-truth, which I camouflage by changing the subject. "Are we still on for dinner ... sometime?"
A spooky presence just over my left shoulder interrupts Alyssa's answer. I turn to find Cassandra, six inches from my face and smiling.
"Oh, there you are," she says. "Dr. Kozinski will see you now."
I hear an angry intake of air in my left ear. Busted.
"What was that?" Alyssa yells. "Are you at the doctor again, you lying-"
I scrape stubble across the mouthpiece in a lame and desperate attempt to simulate static.
"Sorry, must be bad reception." I snap the phone shut.
After a moment's deliberation, I power it all the way off and follow the squeaky-shoed Cassandra into the bowels of modern medicine.
* * *
My bare feet stick to the cold tile floor as I strip down to my skivvies. The room (a glorified closet, really) reeks of antiseptic and is chilly enough to infringe upon my civil rights. Medical implements stand at attention: swabs, syringes, secret potions, and all manner of probes and invasive thingies meant to invoke fear and vulnerability in the paying customer-an insidious ploy unique to horror movies, amusement parks, and doctors' offices. Sure, there's the illusion of sovereignty when the nurse guides you to your lofty throne atop the padded, overly high examination table. But then it dawns on you that your feet are dangling like a toddler on the toilet. You're in your underwear. And you had to use a stool to get up there in the first place. All this after they stick you with needles and make you pee in a plastic shot glass. No, you'll do as instructed, as if you're working for the doctor instead of the other way around.
I climb up on the stool, perch myself on the crinkly deli paper, and absentmindedly swing my feet. Cassandra was all business this morning when she escorted me to the examination room. Despite the enormous diamond on her finger, I think she has a crush on me, so I practice clenching my stomach muscles in case she pops in. The trick is to avoid looking intentional or vain about it: overdo it and you look hollowed out, creepy; not enough and a six-pack of abs can look like a jumbo pack of hairy dinner rolls. By the time she barges in ten minutes later to tell me that the doctor will be right with me, I've abandoned my posing to inspect various moles on my shoulders and back. At the sound of the opening door, I flex everything at once and try to smile nonchalantly. The effect is likely a cross between a deranged Chippendale and a serial killer with a toothache, but it happens so quick that I doubt she even got a decent look, thank God.
When Dr. Kozinski strides in moments later reviewing my chart, I hear the demoralizing sound of laughing nurses through the open door.
"Well, well. What's it been, Russell? A whole week since your last visit?"
"A lot can happen in a week."
Instructions are no longer necessary to get through this part of our routine. It's been choreographed to the point where simple nudges or gestures are all that's needed to have me blow deeper, look this way or that, lie back, sit up, turn my head and cough. In the old days he would even breathe warm air on the business end of his stethoscope before he slapped it on my chest. Now he seems to take pleasure-a little too much pleasure, if you ask me-from inflicting small discomforts. Like holding the tongue depressor down until I gag. Or giving the blood pressure pump a few extra squeezes. He flips the light switch off and jams his fancy pupil-dilating flashlight at my left eye.
"You using the high beams there, Doc?" I say this every time. He never laughs.
He turns the lights back on. "So, what brings us here today? Another mole, I presume?"
"Right here," I say, turning my left shoulder toward him and pointing it out with my right hand. "I'm pretty sure it's turning colors."
"We'll get to that in a moment." Dr. K refuses to break routine. I'm not sure if it's habit, or if his conscience won't allow him to charge me for a full examination unless he performs his entire complement of invasions. He makes small talk while probing my ears, nose, and throat, then asks about my parents' welfare while feeling for lumps or hernias. It tickles like mad and he knows it.
Finally, he leans in and shines his light on the mole in question. "Oh yeah, you're right. It is changing colors, like a mood ring. Or maybe a disco ball."
"Seriously. I think it looks different."
"That's because you're stretching the skin." He places both his thumbs on my forearm and applies outward pressure. "See, your skin turns white."
"Ouch." He's pulling the hair on my arms, probably on purpose.
"Now back to pink," he says, ignoring my outburst. "And if I keep doing this long enough, it will eventually turn an angry red."
"So I guess I'm not dying then."
"Don't put words in my mouth." He grins at the temporary panic in my eyes. "My professional opinion is that you've only got five or six decades left. Seven tops."
"Your bedside manner could use some work."
"You still selling copiers?"
"In theory. You need a new one?"
"No, Russell. I was just working on my bedside manner."
"Because we're running a killer special on HP models for-"
He turns me so I'm facing the wall while he runs his hands across my shoulders and spine.
"Have you given any thought to our last conversation? About looking for another line of work? Something you don't hate?"
Excerpted from My Name Is Russell Fink by Michael Snyder Copyright © 2008 by Michael Snyder. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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What People are saying about this
A laugh-out-loud, wild romp of a mystery. Brandilyn Collins, Author, 'Crimson Eve'
Clever, memorable, unpredictable. I want to write like Mike Snyder when I grow up. He makes it look easy. And he doesn't settle for easy answers, which is good, since there are none. Brad Whittington, Author, 'The Fred Books' and 'The Cooper Books'
In his debut novel, Snyder offers a hearty dose of lad lit. Russell Fink sells copiersa job he hatesand is engaged to a controlling wannabe actress he doesn't love. He still lives at home, has lost faith in his televangelist, miracle-working father and occasionally doses the family dog with alcohol from his mother's stash. Russell's twin sister, Katie, died of leukemia when they were young, and he's blamed himself ever since. The story is a bit helter-skelter: Russell's brother, Peter, has disappeared and may have been kidnapped. Russell believes his dog was poisoned and is intent on tracking down the animal's killer. He breaks things off with his fiancee, but will he finally admit that he loves his longtime friend Geri? His dad has applied for a new ministry position and needs Russell's help to get the job, but will they make amends? Throw in a number of secrets, some questions of religious faith, a move out of his mom's house and a move in with a perpetually cold new roommate who may or may not be a scientist for NASA, and you have a fairly nutty story. Snyder's writing is inventive and fun, but there are too many crazy characters and rampant story lines, and it may be a bit too edgy and complex for the Christian chick lit crowd. (Mar.) Publisher's Weekly
Meet the Author
Michael Snyder lives in Spring Hill, Tennessee, with is lovely wife and four children. He studied music in college and played guitar professionally for many years. His first novel, My Name is Russell Fink, released in 2008, and he hopes the world is a slightly better place as a result.
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Unique writing voice. Wonderful characterization. Great story. You will love Russell Fink (and new author Mike Snyder).
I have to admit, it was the clairvoyant basset hound, Sonny, who got my attention and prompted me to read Russell Fink, but it was Russell¿s story that kept me reading. Michael¿s premier novel is a cleverly woven tale of Russell¿s experiences as he investigates a murder that the police won¿t touch, the murder of Sonny. And Russell, is well, Russell ¿ undoubtedly one of the most unlikely heroes that you¿ll ever meet. I promise, you¿ll learn to love him before you get to the end of the book and you¿ll laugh yourself silly all the way there.
Poor Russell! Yeah, he's probably a little neurotic, but who wouldn't be? He still lives at home with his mom, a secret drinker, and his dad, an ex-con former faith healer. He works, sometimes, selling office supplies, at least when he's not seeing a doctor to confirm his latest dire self-diagnosis. He's still beating himself up over his sister's death from cancer. His fiancee' refuses to break up with him. And his brother may or may not have been kidnapped. Then there's Sonny. If Russell feeds his basset hound liquor-soaked dog biscuits, Sonny seems to answer questions....until Russell finds him dead under the kitchen table. Who murdered Sonny? Was it the same person who's sending threats to Russell's family? And will Russell ever realize how he really feels about Geri, his friend since college? Snyder's book is chock-full of oddball characters and unexpected plot turns. He's woven issues of faith and second chances throughout. The book was a delightful read. It seemed to end a little hastily but maybe Snyder is setting us up for a second Russell story. That would be fun!
'My Name Is Russell Fink' is about an average, quirky guy who faces unpredicatable changes in his life while negotiating the complexities of relationships. It is a book written from a Christian worldview though it is not blatantly so. I thoroughly enjoyed the read and would compare the writing style to that of Douglas Coupland. The characters are quirky and the story is interesting complete with love, loss, mystery, and a basset hound that gives sage advice. Overall, a light and fun read!