by George Veck
One Visit introduces the reader to twenty-year-old Frankie Gibbs, desperately trying to keep his younger brother, Dazzler, out of care and shield the worst of their father, Guy’s, drug excesses and abuse from him.
When Guy is sent to prison, Frankie breathes a sigh of relief, but only briefly, as drug dealers begin to circle Frankie’s home in North Wales and any chance of leading a normal life begins to disappear in a haze of addiction and destruction…
One Visit does not pull its punches, which is understandable given the subject matter. The opening chapter places the reader immediately into Frankie’s world of drug-addled, rancid squalor yet with a clear sense of objectivity. It’s incredibly visual and intensely realistic with a documentary-like feel to the book, certainly in the beginning.
The characters and setting are painfully well-observed but Veck is careful to distance the reader, creating contrast and consequent interest. The reader can see how sordid and bleakly hopeless the situation is but the characters cannot, as they shamble about in their gritty, twilight world of cheap hustles, drugs, and alcohol.
It’s utterly credible without being hackneyed, which is sometimes the case in novels dealing with abuse and addiction. The total believability of One Visit adds an additional flinching layer as the reader is immersed in Frankie’s ghastly, subterranean bare existence.
Although Veck’s writing does occasionally fall over itself, there is clever insight woven through the narrative and sharp, biting observation that is nicely tempered with black humor. There is an unrefined quality, a roughness if you will to Veck’s prose which, whether by accident or design, neatly complements and underscores the story he tells.
The book is fairly dialogue-heavy and the exchanges flow effortlessly, amusingly rich in colloquialism and the Welsh language. Veck helpfully provides the Welsh translations but footnotes explaining the street/drug slang might be beneficial for readers not from the UK.
The characters in One Visit fall into two camps and often, belong to both; the users and the abusers. The majority are nasty, crafty degenerates imbued with varying levels of cunning. However, Frankie is just so empty from the start and cuts a tragic, pathetic figure. He tries to dredge some mental strength but is too emotionally vulnerable and pitifully damaged to make an impact.
Dazzler, younger by seven years, has a little more self-preservation and energy but this flicker of possibility is soon well on its way to being extinguished. Justin and his sidekick, Damo, are suitably conniving and dissolute. The scene between Damo and Frankie toward the end is particularly brutal and its consequences, are harrowing.
One of the most uncomfortable portrayals is of Delyth. She enters the novel in Chapter 6, but her terrifyingly rapid descent into hard drug use and squalid degradation is depicted with shuddering authenticity.
Although the narrative is fast-paced, the nucleus of the plot could have been brought in sooner. When Justin and Damo ‘move in’ to Frankie’s there are elements that just seem too similar to when Guy was in residence. This changes but it could have been delineated earlier.
Personally, the ending was correct, this story and its characters are never going to be wrapped up in a pretty bow, and it would have been disingenuous for that to have happened. Veck pitches the conclusion just right, the reader has a few loose endings to tie up for themselves although they are, overall, horribly obvious.
One Visit is a raw, uncompromising novel exploring a grimly compelling and contemporary world of drug addiction with its predators and prey. A brutally good read that’s well worth a look.