Welcome to Slacker City, PA, population three – average age (and annual salary) twenty-something. The natives - Kevin (ex-con turned professional dogwalker), Doug (English major turned food-service worker), and Mitch (nothing much turned auto department manager at Accu-Mart) – certainly seem friendly enough, though that apparent affability might well be because the three are perpetually stoned.
Mitch and Doug live a life of glorious underachievement, with complete with a grody apartment and beater cars. Kevin’s life is little more interesting, since his wife’s job helps pay for a slightly larger house and slightly newer truck, but the marriage was never all that solid and seems to be getting worse (ask Doug why, eh?). The slacker lifestyle becomes considerably more appropriate when Mitch and Doug lose their jobs in quick succession, but at least Mitch’s exit doesn’t come before he can arrange for an $1800 flat-screen to “fall off a truck” into Kevin’s pickup at the Accu-Mart loading dock. Flush with pride at the easy success of their first foray into grand larceny – not to mention intrigued by the apparent lack of effort – the trio determine that their destiny is to become master criminals.
Jobs having gotten scarce in the dying Rust Belt town of Wilton, the three end up dividing their time between plotting their next caper – a caper that never quite seems to go right – and regularly refilling the bong with weed. Job searches can go hang. Whether it’s dealing pills for a shady MD, a steal-to-order Ferrari, or the ultimate caper - robbing an armored car - the three wannabe gangsters quickly prove that they’re a twenty-first-century edition of The Gang Who Couldn’t Shoot Straight (except that these three don’t shoot at all). The trio prove remarkably lucky, though: their victims can’t shoot straight, either.
If you ever need to know how to knock over an armored car, talk to Howard C. A high school classmate of mine, Howard knocked over a Brinks truck just a couple of years after we graduated. Of course, Howard managed to knock it over by T-boning the truck with his semi at a busy intersection, as opposed to cold-cocking a guard and making off with bags of cash at gunpoint, but it still makes for a good story. On the other hand, Iain Levinson’s literary version of his three slackers’ similar feat – How to Rob an Armored Car – turns out to be somewhat less interesting. Perhaps it’s the overstudied aimlessness of his characters that makes Levinson’s plot uninteresting; perhaps it’s the by-rote stupidity of every one of their criminal plots that does the deed. Then again, it might be just how hard Levinson struggles to make his characters maximally slack. Whatever the cause, it doesn’t quite work for this reader. Lacking much of a plot, How to Rob an Armored Car still manages to be moderately entertaining, mostly because of some fairly stock gags and a couple of cute twists. It’s readable, but I wouldn’t put it on the top of the stack. (Confidential to Iain: those who speak English with Hispanic accents don’t pronounce Mitch “Meesh” – that’d be French.)
Levinson, thrice before an author (Dog Eats Dog, Since the Layoffs, and A Working Stiff’s Manifesto) seems determined to carve out a niche for himself writing about aimless stoners who are too lazy to get off the couch to repack the bowl on the bong. Someone ought to warn him that embers of his chosen demographic aren’t real big on reading novels…