Monday, April 09, 2007

Re-reads & A Case of Weird Synchronicity

When Paper Trails was published a couple of months ago I decided that I was going to re-read Paris Trout. It had been a long time since I read it; in fact it had been a long time since I read any Dexter. He's such a low key guy, damn near invisible in fact, that I have a tendency to forget about him sometimes.

I'm happy to say that Paris Trout has not lost any of its dark power over the years. I had forgotten portions of the book and mis-remembered others so it was a fresh experience for me again.

The language is stark and impressive with some scenes being so hard to watch unfold and yet so utterly compelling. I felt, at times, like a rubbernecker gawking at a car accident on the side of the road.

The characterizations are so deeply detailed that the ending of the book becomes so tragic on every level. It’s the rare book that just leaves you gasping for air as if you'd been punched in the gut.

Lest I forget why I started reading Paris Trout in the first place it should be said that Paper Trails is just brilliant. I've been reading it in little bits to try and make last as long as possible

Plus they both are PT books.


I also spent some time reading The Last Good Kiss by James Crumly again. Without a doubt it blew my hair back when I first read it but does it still hold up and should it be considered a classic? Interestingly the answer is yes and no.

Pro-classic opinion

On one hand it is a classic because by the time Crumly came out the hard-boiled, noir, PI genre was stale, predictable and reductive. Ultimately pandering to its lowest common denominator. So its influence can never be taken away and for that it will always be a classic.

Crumly has a vivid writing style that is both masculine and sentimental. His exploration of the underside of the American psyche/experience in the post-Vietnam era was sober and refreshing. It also brought the genre kicking and screaming into the present and out of the domain of fedoras and dames. This was a brutal modern western in every sense of the word.

He presents the post conflict solider as a tragic teary-eyed figure floating adrift, lost as he finds himself out of his element now that he isn't in the jungle with his brothers. The government created them as warriors to fit their needs and then forever cast them aside. To live with that they have turned to drugs and alcohol and sex. Think the first Rambo movie, but without the descent into cartoonishness.

An interesting question though needs to be asked. Is Crumly a writer of his time, specifically that of post-Vietnam era America? I think it will be interesting to see what future novels of his will bring to the table in post 9-11 America. Will they continue to be relevant or will they be unable to move forward by mining the same vein. Only time will tell.

Afterthought: Crumly shows a willingness to poke fun at the genre in later books, just witness the first part of The Mexican Tree Duck. From the planned execution of a jukebox to the repossession of tropical fish from a biker gang using a Sherman Tank and the assistance of two fat brothers. Must be read to be believed.

Dissenting opinion

One could say that Crumly's characters are pompous blowhards. That they have a total inability to adapt to the real world. Crumly’s answer to a reductive genre was a reductive response, all of his characters fit into the parameters of 'If its the bad guy then kill it; if it has a hole then fuck it; if it can be cut into a line then snort it and if can be rolled then smoke it.'

It seems readily apparent that only those with penis's can really understand these characters and their plight of trying to cope in the real world. Only those who fought in Nam are worthy of consideration and development into a character with a third dimension. Dames are still dames even if you don't use the word.

Crumly's world is not only reductive but it’s overly simplistic as well.


After playing devils advocate with myself I've come to the conclusion that it is a book worthy of being called a classic but maybe when considering some other aspects of it that it’s better to call it a flawed classic. But then aren't most classic books flawed in some way?


Now I called this post Re-reads & A Case of Weird Synchronicity for a reason. I'm reading a book now called Ice by Vladimir Sorokin. In it a woman is violated by a wine bottle. In Paris Trout a woman is violated with a glass water bottle.

What the hell kind of stars have to align for someone to read two books in a short period of time where women are treated this way. In Paris Trout the scene was effective in making the character of Paris loathed by the reader because we were made so uncomfortable while it was happening. So far in Ice I can’t see that there was a point to the scene.


patrick_fbs said...

Honestly, every time I read anything you put out I add more and more books to my list, mystery books at that.

How am I to tackle three genres(Fantasy, Mystery, and Science Fiction) all at once? Well, I guess the answer is quite simple: one book at at time.

Brian said...

Patrick! My one and only reader. Glad I could add to Mount TBR.

patrick_fbs said...

It is a little said to know that I may be one of the few that actually read your blog; there is some great stuff here.

I believe that is because you do not parade around the net that you have one, but we have talked of similar things through e-mail.

I really think that you should put together more articles (there is a portion to do such a thing) for FBS. You write some really great stuff, and I highly enjoy hearing what you have to say. There is not a lot of talk about mystery over there, but maybe, just maybe, some of your post will bring about some rich comments. I know if you went with it I would reply and try and get some comments going. Again, you really know how to turn an ear to listen.

patrick_fbs said...

You know what, you could even do it for F/SF. Your smartass mentality always seems to come through in your work, which makes it must read. And not a mean smartass, a make you laugh smartass, which is even more coveted in my opinion.