Archive for March, 2011

From The Mouths Of…

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

“Life is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.” So said the Bard Of Avon, William 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…dash to Vachss’s website or scour the independent bookstores and 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.

The Fiction Fortune Hunter highly recommends it. For what that’s worth.

Just As Good In Paperback

Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

Here’s a review I did of Pete Dexter’s novel Spooner about a year ago. The paperback edition has recently been published. If you missed the hardcover, get the paperback. Any thing Pete Dexter writes is worth reading. And believe me, Spooner is a trip you’ll be glad you’ve taken.

Spooner, the most recent novel from Pete Dexter, is about life. Okay, I know what you’re saying, all novels are about life in one way or another. But Spooner is so full of life that it may well redefine what most readers think, when they think about novels about life. If that doesn’t seem to make sense, keep in mind that life often doesn’t make sense either. The author freely admits that a number of incidents in his life are used as jumping-off points for this novel’s collected incidents. If you’re a reader of Dexter’s work, you, like me, will realize that before he tells you so in the acknowledgements at the end of the book. But believe me, it doesn’t make any difference one way or the other. You’ll be enthralled with Spooner.

On the surface, its a story about one boy’s lifelong quest to understand and appreciate his stepfather. And perhaps more importantly, to be understood and appreciated by him. From a rural upbringing in the South to a suburban adolescence in the midwest to young adulthood in Philadelphia to middle-age and beyond in the Northwest, its a story that, like life, winds its way slowly and meanderingly through family ties from which none of us are immune.

Dexter’s easy way with words (easy to read, not to write) convince you that he’s in the room spinning his yarn with a pitch perfect down-home accent. His ability to take you from a quiet bucolic setting one moment, followed by a horrific incident the next, followed by a sense of love and warmth and understanding after that, is a high-wire walk not to be missed.

The protagonist of Spooner, a lad by the same name who seems a few cards shy of a deck, is an unpredictable bundle of trouble. He doesn’t try to be. It just seems to come naturally. His long-suffering mother, smarter sister and (eventually) smarter brothers all seem to live their lives more or less successfully, without anywhere near the mayhem that follows Spooner around like an unshakable storm cloud. Luckily, Spooner has Calmer, a stepfather on which all male parents should be modeled after. Not perfect to be sure. As in life, none of us are. But the kind of rock even the stormiest sea can’t seem to shake. Through each phase of his life, Spooner seems to find a unique way to screw up. And Calmer is always there, whether physically present or not, to help set Spooner straight and get him back on whatever bizarre path he’s set for himself.

It would be buzz-killing to go into any detail about the many wondrous things that happen to Spooner, and for that matter, Calmer, in Dexter’s 459 pages. It is in fact, a bit like a slow high turning page after page and being surprised, shocked, saddened, brought to tears in one chapter and giggling like a schoolgirl in others. The wonder of Pete Dexter’s mind, his eye for detail and insight into the workings of the human heart are about as pleasurable as reading can possibly be.

No one turns a phrase quite as surgically as Dexter. Charming one moment, jarring as a left hook the next. And no one else could have lived the life (even though it’s fiction of course) or written so lovingly about it, as Pete Dexter does in Spooner. Get it. Read it. Don’t worry about how long it takes. It’s the kind of treat you can put down and come back to again and again and still get the feeling you’re tasting it for the first time. The Fiction Fortune Hunter recommends anything you can find by this exceptional novelist. I plan to keep reading him until he quits writing. Lets hope that won’t be for a long, long time.

When Good Is Bad Forever

Tuesday, March 1st, 2011

Most of us have our morals. This is good. That is bad. This is right. That is wrong. Hemingway said something like, “When it feels good, we know it’s right. When it feels bad, we know it’s wrong.” But what happens when it feels good and bad? When it seems right and wrong? When it brings sunshine to your heart and sorrow to your soul at the same time?

Such is the crux of James W. Nichol’s brilliant novel of love and war, Transgression. In war, everything changes. Day is night and nights are endless. Killing is honorable and pacifism is cowardly. Hate becomes the coin of the realm. Survival is still acceptable, but at what cost? In war, things that are important in peace, things like friendship and love and longing, become petty and small and without meaning when compared to the bigger picture, the grander stage, the ultimate outcome. Unimportant to most, perhaps. But not to all.

In Transgression, a sixteen year old French seamstress, falls madly in love with a nineteen year old German soldier. She’s the occupied. He’s the occupier. But events conspire (as they often do in novels) to bring them together. He helps her when he shouldn’t. She’s thankful when she should’t be. Life progresses in our hearts and minds and loins on it’s own, whether there’s a war or not. They fall in love.

And she becomes (to her co-workers, her friends, even her family) the lowest thing a person can be in war, a collaborator. One who sleeps with the enemy. Even she is diminished in her own eyes. She knows it’s wrong, but she can’t keep herself from reaching for some kind of happiness when everywhere there is only despair.

They are lovers doomed to be apart. Yet even in the height of falling bombs, vengeful mobs, and invading liberators, they both risk everything and more for each other. This story, in itself, is an avalanche that barrels down a mountainside of emotion. One that keeps you turning page after page to run alongside them. But James W. Nichol is not content to put all his literary eggs in one basket. He parallels this story of France in 1941 with a story that takes place in Canada in 1946. A murder mystery that you, the reader, knows must somehow be related to the World War II tale, but how?

Eventually the two tales intertwine as they must. And the fate of the two lovers and more is played out on a muddy riverbank where love and hate and revenge and an inability to forgive collide. The ending is riveting, surprising, yet infinitely believable. As the very best endings are.

Prior to writing Transgression, James W. Nichol won the Arthur Ellis Award for Best First Novel, with his penning of The Midnight Cab. The Fiction Fortune Hunter believes he didn’t miss a beat with his follow-up. Seek out and read Transgression. You’ll be the better for it.