Archive for July, 2009

A Fish Story Unlike Any Other

Saturday, July 25th, 2009

If you’re looking for a book somewhere in the metaphysical realm of Robinson Crusoe & Alice In Wonderland Meet The Count of Monte Cristo (which of course doesn’t exist), you might try Gould’s Book of Fish which fortunately does exist. It’s a bit like the aforementioned heroes and heroines on both steroids and acid.

Tasmanian born author Richard Flanagan has taken a wee bit of history, added large dollops of imagination and mixed both liberally with C4 explosive to take you on a journey quite unlike anything you’ve ever (thankfully) experienced.

It’s quite easy to fall in love with this book without ever actually reading it. The jacket cover and the design of the book (attributed to Mary Callahan) almost assure you’ll leave it on your coffee table and not in your bookshelf. The subtitle of Gould’s Book of Fish is A Novel In 12 Fish, and each of the twelve is wonderfully illustrated throughout. Plus, each of the twelve sections are printed in a different color. No, it doesn’t make the text harder to read, it simply adds to the morphing nature of the tale and the teller presented throughout the narrative.

Gould’s Book of Fish is the story of Billy Gould, an artist himself, who does a bit of dabbling in forgery and thievery. The majority of the richly expressed yarn takes place in the 19th century and follows the enterprising and exploited lad on his travels in and around England, Tasmania and Australia. Most of the time Gould is a resident of a penal colony doing his dead level best to survive. It’s not easy telling your own story when you’re in a cage submerged under water. Obviously you do most of your talking at low tide. Oh yes, and there is this. Aside from being a thief and a forger, Billy is also a liar. So you have to take what he says with a grain of salt about the size of Mount Rushmore. But if you’re into high adventure, low morals, brutality, filth, spirituality, fantasy, love, unforgettable imagery and people occasionally turning into fish, you’re in for the ride of your life with Gould’s Book of Fish.

Flanagan’s novel was the overall winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize for best book in 2002. It’s a magical story lavishly told and you’ll be a decidedly happier person or sawtooth shark if you choose to swim in its waters.

Tale Told By Idiot Is Mesmerizing

Monday, July 13th, 2009

“Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” So says Bill Shakespeare. And since then a number of novels have been written by authors who have chosen to tell their tales through the mouths of those who most would consider something less than normal.

William Faulkner’s The Sound And The Fury is probably the most famous of these. And more recently, Mark Haddon’s The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-time became a national bestseller by spinning a compelling narrative through the mind and voice of a child savant.

But the purpose of this post is not to bring your attention to either of those worthy tomes. Rather, it is to make you aware of The Getaway Man penned by Andrew Vachss and published in 2003. The narrator and protagonist is Eddie. To be sure, he is what the title implies, a wheel jockey who deals in burning rubber, escape and evasion. But he’s also what we used to call (in pre politically correct times) a little “slow.” Or is he? Near the end you think you know the answer. Then all of a sudden, you don’t.

Andrew Vachss is one of the premier crime fiction writers working today.
His prose slaps you in the face and makes you like it. It slices you so expertly you don’t even know you’ve been cut until the blood starts to trickle. While the native New Yorker is best known for his Burke series, his other novels like The Getaway Man and Two Trains Running (where he tells the entire 450 page story in chronological running-time) are just as tight, tough and menacing.

If, like The Fiction Fortune Hunter, you like your noir with dirty double crosses, hairpin turns and hot pages you hate to put down…pick up
The Getaway Man by Andrew Vachss. And decide for yourself if it’s the storyteller who’s the dim wit, or the reader.

Burrowing To The Bowels Of The Earth

Monday, July 6th, 2009

Most people would not gladly claw their way through the dark intestines of
a West Virginia coal mine in the 1930’s. To the vast majority it would seem too dangerous and too depressing. But the adventurous are often rewarded with the spoils. And spoils abound in Davis Grubb’sThe Barefoot Man. What are the spoils? Exhilaration. Suspense. Ecstasy and agony unbound.

While John Steinbeck’s The Grapes Of Wrath has come down as the seminal novel of the Great Depression (and deservedly so), Grubb’s The Barefoot Man is in some ways the more approachable fiction. It is no less harrowing in its depiction of poverty, hopelessness and despair for interweaving a tale of murder, revenge and eventual redemption.

Published in 1971, Grubb draws upon his considerable familiarity with the scarred hills and stoic faces he grew up with. His recounting of a terrible time in our nation’s history is Dickensian in its ability to transport the reader to a claustrophobic cabin inhabited by a courageous old woman and her family who must face down killers, strikebreakers and treachery in their midst. In the face of starvation, misery and death, a mysterious stranger and his pregnant wife wander into their world and lives are changed forever.

Davis Grubb, after leaving his native West Virginia to study art at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh abandoned his thoughts of a painting career when he realized he was color blind. He moved on to New York where he turned to writing copy for radio broadcasts in Manhattan, then Florida and Philadelphia. Writing fiction in his spare time, he published several short stories. His first published novel became his most famous, The Night Of The Hunter. Which was later turned into a classic film starring Robert Mitchum and directed by Charles Laughton.

Grubb believed in reinventing himself with each new novel, though he realized his reputation probably suffered for it. He said “Literary critics seem to get very upset when you don’t write the same thing. They say you have lost your talent.”

But in his next to last novel, The Barefoot Man, his talents (certainly to this reader) seem not to have dimmed. Witness his exquisitely expressed descriptions of sensuality in the love scenes between Farjeon and Jessie. As well as his ability to turn seemingly ordinary people into portentous figures who rise from the pages far larger than life.

Sometimes the most unforgettable novels are found in the deepest, darkest places. Such is the case with The Barefoot Man. Dig it up if you can.