Colin McKay Miller's Reviews > Major Inversions

Major Inversions by Gordon Highland
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Jul 13, 2010

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bookshelves: novels
Read from June 22 to July 08, 2010

Gordon Highland’s debut novel, Major Inversions, takes a little while to get going, but the whole winds up being greater than the sum of its parts.

Odds are you won’t like the main character, Drew Ballard. He plays in a hair metal cover band, sleeps with groupies, works off and on as a security guard / commercial jingle writer (everyone is a ‘slash’ in Highland’s town), does too many drugs and torments his nerdy roommate, Barron Vaughn, more than he seemingly deserves. While some readers might have difficulty riding along with a narrator who’s more everyday annoying than psychotically hip, there’s a sense that somewhere along the line, Drew Ballard is going to get his due. It’s just a matter of where and when and by whom. The rules of plot conflict demand it.

For some readers, however, I can see them pulling off early, as there isn’t a clear plot struggle in the first 50 pages. It isn’t until the love interest—the cinnamon-scented Layla—appears on the scene (complicating the reader’s view of things) that there’s something more than a clever narrator who isn’t quite clever enough. Where Highland does succeed in those first fifty pages (and in the rest of the novel) is that Drew Ballard may be a creep, but he’s still funny; he may be self-centered, but he’s still astute regarding the world around him. In short, there’s enough on each page to sprinkle over some early plot unevenness. When I first read excerpts on Highland’s website (here:, I thought the narrator’s voice was Nick Hornby casual-cool. By the end of the novel, I’d add in equal parts Chuck Palahniuk tone mixed in with pinches of Michael Chabon wordplay, Christopher Moore humor and Bret Easton Ellis psychosis. Because of this, Highland’s craft is able to lead where the plot initially falls behind.

Thankfully, the plot does come full on by the end. In the final pages, Highland delivers the goods where so many other authors fail, ending the novel on a high note that makes the reader consider all the little things along the way. The meta aspect of Major Inversions feels natural (as opposed to how forced it is with so many other works attempting to be unique with a tired trend), the town around Ballard is a full entity, and Highland knows when to poke holes in his own gimmicks (using guitar chords and lyrics) and one-liners. No, you still won’t like Drew Ballard, but the man has a story to tell. Three stars.
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Gordon Thanks, Colin. I appreciate that you were able to dig in and see all the angles at work instead of just the surface stuff. I hope to be able to return the favor someday.

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