Archive for the ‘Fiction Fortune Hunter’ Category

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.

Old, Cold, Forever Droll

Monday, February 14th, 2011

One returns to one’s favorite authors. That’s what I did recently when I picked up a paperback copy of John LeCarre’s 2008 novel, A Most Wanted Man. I hadn’t read it when it came out because oddly enough I wasn’t a LeCarre acolyte until the following year when I started reading his novels. Up until that time, I had been a huge fan of several of the movie adaptations of his work. I wrote about one of them in a previous post you can find in this blog’s archives dated 8/25/2009 and titled Perfect Prose Of The Evil Men Do.

The early LeCarre is all pinpoint precision and unfailing avoidance of sentimentality. But as we age, we mellow. Yes, we also get shorter tempered and occasionally less tolerant and now and then wistful. The aging process takes its toll in many ways. It’s debatable I guess as to which behavioral change is good and which is bad. But it’s less debatable, and more hopeful, that LeCarre, even in old age, can still weave a most beguiling tale.

A Most Wanted Man is not up to The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, or the Smiley series, or other’s of his best. But less-than-LeCarre’s-best is far better than most. What’s still there in vast measure is the insight, intellect and humanity that mark his exceptional storytelling.

LeCarre has performed a bit of an illusion in A Most Wanted Man. He has taken the hot war on terror we all seem unable to get out of the back of our minds today, and fused it with the cold war of decades past. The events, the concerns, the looming atrocities, are all pulled from today’s headlines. While many of the characters, entanglements, and moral ambiguities, are vintage spy-versus-spy LeCarre land. It’s a concoction that, on the surface seems like it wouldn’t really work. But a master’s at work here. So most of it does.

Plot-wise, a gaunt Muslim surfaces in Hamburg. He attaches himself to a Turkish family who feel compelled to help him once they realize he’s obviously been tortured and is probably on the run from his tormentors. In short order, he winds up being represented by an iconoclastic (and yes, beautiful) German lawyer who attempts to help him with his stated goal of collecting the ill-gotten gains of his long-deceased Russian father who secreted them away in the bowels of a respected private bank. He doesn’t want the money for himself. He wants it distributed to Muslim charities around the world. Or so he says. The private banker who oversees the secretive accounts becomes caught up in the plight of the Muslim and the legs of his lawyer. In true LeCarre form, he’s an older, more subdued sophisticate slipping into impending ennui and hoping to rejuvenate himself by doing something good as well as something profitable. Also, as you might expect, spies abound and everyone knows what everyone else is doing. However, there are lots of questions too. Is the young Muslim really a kind-hearted soul or is he in fact a terrorist bent on an act of unspeakable evil? Will the young lawyer and the old banker find more than a shared interest in a mysterious stranger? Will the German Secret Police, British Intelligence, or the CIA emerge as the thwarters of tragedy or the instigators of it? Is the young Muslim really the one everyone’s after or is he just a pawn in a much more complicated game of cat and mouse?

As you read, you sometimes find it harder to reconcile LeCarre’s old cold war world with today’s. When it was the Soviets versus the West, it was all about secrets, deterrents, and personal betrayal. When it’s extremist Jihad, its all about mass murder and the death and destruction of innocents. Of course, because it’s LeCarre, we are always reminded that few, in any of us, are really innocent.

The Fiction Fortune Hunter found A Most Wanted Man to be an intellectually intriguing way to pass the weekend. There are few better literary conversationalists than John LeCarre. If you prefer a bit of acid with your adventure, this just might be your cup of tea.

Unapologetically Sordid. Funny Too.

Tuesday, January 25th, 2011

One of the guilty pleasures of reading noir is that you’re sure to find plenty of lives that are decidedly more horrendous than yours. It’s comforting to know that things could be a hell of a lot worse than they already are. With each turn of the page a release valve emits just enough trouble, chaos, and angst to keep you chewing up chapter after chapter. And if you’re really lucky, you engage with an author that frequently keeps you smirking silently or giggling out loud.

You’ll find all of the above and more in Victor Gischler’s novel, The Deputy. It’s a nonstop monologue from one of literature’s more lovable losers. At least that’s the way you think of him for quite a while. What else would you think of a peace officer who shows up for a murder investigation in sweatpants and is unable to clip his sidearm on because “the gun was too heavy, (it) kept pulling the waistband down past my ass-crack.”

Sartorial shortcomings are just the beginning of Billy, The Deputy’s, often self-inflicted wounds. He makes bad decisions. Not just in his job, but in his life as well. He’s a failed musician who has been taken on (part-time) by the police department in a tiny town in Oklahoma that makes nowhere look big. He lives in a trailer with his wife and baby son and seems in no particular hurry to advance his station in life. He’s having an illicit affair with a high school goth who keeps him coming back for more, in grave peril not only to his marriage but his life as well. (The teenager lives with her violent truck-driving stepfather.) And he manages to lose the dead body he’s been assigned to watch. Which starts an avalanche of onrushing peril unequaled in the annals of paperback pulp.

But here’s the thing. You can’t help but like the guy. Victor Gischler, the author, has done such a good job of showing you the better angels of Billy’s character, that you wind up rooting for him like a four touchdown underdog in a non-conference sleeper. Even though he’s having an affair, he loves his wife. Even though he’s a bone fide slacker, he wants to do right by his son. Even though he screws up time after time, he never stops trying to make everything right.

Events, as they usually do in these sorts of stories, start to go from bad to worse. After losing the aforementioned body, there’s a shoot-out and an axe murder in Billy’s trailer, while he’s holding his infant son. There’s a beating, a car chase, an accident, a shooting, an 18-wheeler plowing into a motel room, another shooting, a house being burned down, another shooting at a drive-in movie, an assault on a police station followed by (you guessed it) another shooting, there’s hand-to-hand combat, a gun duel in the street (which actually qualifies as another shooting), there’s beating, choking, (I can’t actually remember if there’s stabbing), but, to top it all off, yes, say it with me, there’s another shooting. Oh, and I neglected to mention, it all happens in one night.

Through it all, Gischler keeps you rooting for Billy via perfect pace and ribald references such as: “The inside of Luke’s truck smelled like stale beer and armpit.” And, “I went through the screen door and found myself in a hot, stuffy room, stacks of books, magazines, and newspapers surrounding an old overstuffed armchair. The place smelled like fried bologna and Ben Gay.” And “There was something in a Tupperware bowl that might have been meatloaf, but I decided not to risk it.”

I won’t spoil it for you by telling you what happens in the end, and to whom. But suffice it to say you’ll probably rip-read this baby in one sitting. Not because it’s short, but rather because it’s too damn good to put down.

Victor Gischler writes novels, comic books (or the more politically correct, graphic novels, I guess I should say) movie scripts, video games and more. Along with teaching English. Pretty awesome dude. Check him out when you can. The Fiction Fortune Hunter did. And I’m the better for it.

Beyond Survival To Transcendence

Sunday, January 16th, 2011

James Dickey is perhaps best known for his novel (that became a highly respected and successful movie) Deliverance. The huge commercial success of Dickey’s story of four modern men who find themselves in a primitive test of survival, has overshadowed much of the writer’s other accomplishments. And while Deliverance certainly deserves its place in the minds and hearts of all those exposed to the book or film, I would make the case that it was only the beginning of the big questions the author explores in his last novel.

To The White Sea, published in 1993 (four years before the author’s death) is a searing exercise in self-examination that exceeds Deliverance in explorations of manhood, survival, even existence itself. As well as being an epic prose poem to wilderness. Not just the wilderness of mountains, plains, seas and forests. But also the wilderness of the soul.

The story line of To The White Sea is relatively straightforward. In World War II, a B-29 bomber gets shot down over Japan. Only the tail-gunner survives. Parachuting safely into the outskirts of Tokyo, he is only hours ahead of the fire-bombing that is about to come from the rest of his squadron. The remainder of “the plot” concerns itself with his struggle to survive. But to assume that Dickey’s novel is merely an adventure yarn, is a mistake of inestimable proportion.

James Dickey tells his story via the first-person narrative of the survivor, Muldrow. A man, we readers, only think we know at the beginning of the tale. Short in stature, we learn early on that he’s tall in skills. Raised in the Alaskan wilderness, Muldrow is expert in the ways of the wild. Hunting, escape and evasion, survival in harsh climates, plus the thinking, planning, and intuitiveness these skills require, are all part and parcel of Muldrow’s makeup that serve him well when he finds himself alone in Japan. A single man among a literal nation of enemies. But far larger questions loom on the horizon (for Muldrow and readers) than physical and practical ones.

It’s not that the physical tests aren’t severe. By turns Muldrow is forced to exist in sewer pipes, experience the white phosphorus horror of firebombs and their aftermath, endure the fear and terror of being caught and tortured, and more. But it’s the mental and moral tests that are perhaps the most challenging. What exactly will an individual do to survive? What is acceptable behavior, even in war? Is anything and everything justified when your life is at stake? And to whom do you have to justify it? Muldrow doesn’t ask himself these questions. We readers ask them as we’re exposed to the pages that unfold before us.

As he struggles to make his way from one end of Japan to the other, we share Muldrow’s memories and longings of the snow covered plains and forests of his Alaska home. The idyllic life in his mind juxtaposed with the horrific life he is forced to live on the run, provide dueling counterpoints that keep readers leaning one way, then the other in regard to whether the fleeing man is doing what any of us would do, or has passed beyond the bounds of humanity. Dickey has fashioned a strange fantasia. Both lyrical in its beauty and terrifying in its brutality. In the end we are even forced to question existence itself. What becomes of us when we have transcended virtually everything around us? Have we ascended to a higher order, or descended to depths we dare not fathom?

To The White Sea is a mighty work that’s as big and audacious as James Dickey was himself. The Fiction Fortune Hunter found it unforgettable. Perhaps you will too.

Mind Games Gone Terribly Wrong

Thursday, January 6th, 2011

As scary places go, the mind might just be the scariest. Particularly if the mind you’re occupying at the moment is the one inside the skull of Dennis Cleg, the psychotic protagonist of Patrick McGrath’s novel, Spider.

On top of being frightening, it’s also chaotic, confused, and particularly unreliable. But none of that makes it any less compelling.

Cleg, or Spider, as he prefers to be called, is a mental patient who has been released to a half-way house in 1957 London. He tells you right up front that he often becomes “uncoupled”. Meaning he loses his grip on what he’s doing at the moment. Whatever that might be. Walking, talking, etc. He also tells you that his long-term memory is vastly superior to his short-term memory. In other words, while he has a devil of a time telling you what he did yesterday, he can easily remember virtually everything that happened in his childhood. And it’s those childhood memories that form the core of Spider’s story.

Author Patrick McGrath has fashioned a devastatingly moving tale of insanity from the inside out. As Spider tells his story, we emphasize with his harsh upbringing in a particularly poverty pocked neighborhood in London’s East End. We feel the childhood terrors Spider is forced to endure at the hands of his brutish lout of a father. We sympathize with his frail and loving mother. We agonize over the traumatic event that precipitates Spider’s descent into madness. But…we also begin to question whether or not we’re really hearing the true story. Truth is often hard to find. In Spider’s mind, it may be impossible to locate.

Ambiguity is ever present in Spider’s tale of woe. How much is real and how much is imagined? In real life, the author’s father oversaw mental patients. No doubt their frequent inability to separate fantasy from reality had a permanent effect on McGrath. He’s certainly put it to marvelous use in this spellbinding tale of schizophrenia.

Of the many things that Spider says, of the many ways he draws you deeper and deeper into his disturbed existence, perhaps none is more heartbreaking than when he shares the tragic line:
To be awake is to be available to torment, and this is the full complete meaning of life.

Spider is at once a mesmerizing thriller, an intricate case study, and an intensely horrifying peek at what might cause many to intone, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” Written over twenty years ago, about an era some sixty years gone now, it still feels as frighteningly relevant as waking up in a cold sweat.

A movie was made of Spider in 2002. It starred Ralph Fiennes who was exceptional in the title role. But as good as the film was, it doesn’t quite equal the lyrical literary unraveling of the web that Patrick McGrath takes you through in his disturbingly real novel.

If you’re like the Fiction Fortune Hunter, and every now and then, you actually enjoy being a bit creeped out, pull this Spider off the shelves. You won’t soon forget it.

Go Greene For The Holidays

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

The Holidays have sneaked up on The Fiction Fortune Hunter. I realized I haven’t posted for a couple of weeks, and I’m not likely to over Christmas and New Years. So, I’m re-posting a piece I did about a year ago. If you’re looking for a great gift for your loved ones who love to read, get them anything, or everything written by Graham Greene. He’s one of the greatest novelists of the twentieth century. Here’s what I said about him last November.

This post is in praise of Graham Greene. Many consider him the foremost novelist of the 20th century. They are probably correct. His literate, insightful “entertainments”, as he often referred to them, present snapshots of the world circa 1930 to 1990. Many of Greene’s most memorable novels take place in what has often been described at Greeneland, some backwater in a third world country filled with deceit, treachery, lost love and/or lost illusions.

A listing of his more popular novels reads like a panoply of the last century. The Heart Of The Matter (Africa), The Ugly American (Southeast Asia), The Comedians (Haiti), The Power And The Glory (Mexico) The Burnt Out Case (Congo) The Human Factor and The End of The Affair (London). Our Man In Havana (Cuba). These are only some parts of the world that Greene passed through and chronicled in fiction with his characters ranging from nobility to cowardice to most of the other behaviors in between. His screen story of The Third Man (Vienna) still stands as one of the most beloved movies of the postwar (World War II) period.

Green could write pulp with the best of them. The famous Alan Ladd movie This Gun For Hire was based on a Graham Green novel. He was no stranger to satire and comedy, Monsignor Quixote, the tale of a hapless Spanish priest on a doomed quest, brought him to the attention of some readers who never knew him in the 1980s, Though much of his power had left him by the time of that penning. And certainly intrigue was always part of the equation in Greene novels like The Honorary Consul and The Human Factor.

But Green was at his best when wrestling with the inner demons that plagued men’s souls at the same time they were having to deal with love, lust, boredom, honor, bravery and the complex nature of humanity itself.

Born and raised in England he came to personify the aristocratic British type. All silver tongue, poison pen and pitch perfect diction. He didn’t care too much for America or Americans. The rise of the USA seemed to parallel the decline of the British Empire and while he viewed the latter with seemingly detached indifference, one can’t help but wonder if his country’s change in fortune perhaps skewed his view of the USA’s ascendency.

Rapier wit, an incredible ear for dry, droll dialogue and a relentless honesty regarding guilt and all its attendant emotions, enabled him to cut to the bone with his prose and his stories of all too human beings in all too inhuman circumstances.

Some bookstores still have Graham Greene sections, though not enough. Regardless of whether he was writing in the 30′s, 40′s, 50′s 60′s 70′s or 80′s, his stories are as involving and illuminating today as any thing you’re likely to read from this new century.

Make a point of becoming acquainted with Graham Greene and his marvelous novels, if you’re not already. If you are, I need not encourage you to revisit them from time to time. The Fiction Fortune Hunter certainly does, and always to my benefit.

For an exceedingly thorough and engaging biography of Graham Greene, read The Enemy Within by Michael Shelden. It frequently reads like one of Greene’s “entertainments.”

Mayhem, Murder, And Malice

Tuesday, November 30th, 2010

Andrew Vachss writes like this. Short, choppy sentences. Lean thoughts. No fat. He writes like people talk. Don’t look for flowing phrases. You won’t find them. Why should you? Who the hell talks like that anyway? His words are spat out. Like phlegm. Except they stick to your soul. They burn your heart. They make your joints ache. If you’re looking for beauty, you’ve looking at the wrong author. If you like prose with a punch to the kidney, he’s your man. But be warned. Internal bleeding is likely.

As Vachss might say, all that philosophical crap in the opening paragraph is simply a long winded introduction to his 1993 novel, SHELLA. Shella is a girl’s name. A tough girl. Are there any other kind in Vachss’s novels? This girl is as tough as they come. But she’s never quite gotten over the sexual abuse her father put her through. Who does? She’s into stripping in clubs, running the old badger game, dominatrix duty, and eventually a whole lot worse. Guess what though? The novel’s not really about her. Well, not really. It’s about the guy who’s looking for her. And what he might or might not do when he finds her.

His name…well, you’re never quite sure what his name is. One guy he works for calls him Ghost. Maybe because he seems to be one. He’s actually the narrator of the story as well as the protagonist. And he’s a piece of work. He kills people. For a living. No knives, guns, poison or other tricky stuff. He uses his hands. Mostly, he breaks their necks. He’s very good at it. He’s had a lot of practice. And in this novel he gets a lot more.

The plot of SHELLA is pretty simple. Ghost has just gotten out of the slammer and he’s looking for his old partner, Shella. They had a lucrative set-up until something went wrong and he took the fall. Initially, you think he’s looking for her because he really wants to be with her again. But as the pages fly by, you’re not quite sure of his motive. Maybe there’s more to it than that. Maybe he’s got a score to settle. She never came to his trial. She never visited him in lock-up. She never wrote him in the pen. But he’s determined to find her. And that determination leaves a pretty bloody wake.

Ghost is not maniacal. Just practical. He does what he does because he’s good at it. It’s not all his fault. He had a misspent youth. Reform schools. Work farms. Run-ins with a child rapist he beat to death with batteries rolled up in a sock. He learned to defend himself by erasing whatever was bothering him. That’s a skill some people were willing to pay well for. Ghost had another thing going for him. He looked like a regular guy. Not big. Not small. Not short. Not tall. Not fat. Not thin. Just a guy. The kind of guy nobody ever gives a second look to. Being a non-entity can come in handy. Especially in Ghost’s line of work.

Eventually, as a quid pro quo to helping him find Shella, Ghost agrees to do a job for a guy. A job that lands him in the middle of an exceptionally sordid white supremacist group. Vachss does a particularly good job of making the group members seem even more reprehensible than the hookers, pimps, gangsters, and crooks who populate the pages around them. Even though it takes you a while to get past the books early depravity and brutality, by the time you’ve spent even a few chapters with these racist yahoos, you’re pulling for Ghost to dispatch the lot of them with extreme prejudice.

It’s not a plot spoiler to tell you that Ghost eventually finds Shella. Though their reunion is not what you assume it will be. There’s still a hard-edged surprise or two waiting. And like the best of noir novels, it’s laid out lean, dry, unsympathetically. Yet it still brings a bit of sadness to your soul.

The Fiction Fortune Hunter suggests you rummage through the used book stores and online purveyors and find a copy of SHELLA to curl up with. It’s vintage Vachss. Hard. Heavy. But not heartless.

The Raven At West Point

Saturday, November 20th, 2010

From what you assume is his deathbed, a retired detective recounts his last case. As he does so, visions swirl around him. Visions of loved ones, confidantes, crooks and more. He is determined to put on paper the events of the last few months of the year, 1830. Events that mark a most curious and compelling case. Made even more so by the involvement of one of history’s most macabre authors, Edgar Allen Poe.

That’s the setup for a thoroughly engrossing novel entitled The Pale Blue Eye. It’s the tale of Augustus Landor, former New York City constable, widowed, suffering from consumption, now living in a cottage near the Hudson River, and assuming that his career is over. Until a Lieutenant from West Point arrives at his door with a summons from the institution’s superintendent. Landor accompanies the officer back to the fortress a few miles from his home and a Gothic mystery begins.

It seems a tragedy has occurred. A young cadet has apparently hanged himself. Which, in itself, is a woeful, not to mention potentially embarrassing predicament for the citadel of soldiery. But unfortunately, that’s not the worst of it. There’s also the fact that extreme insult has been added to injury. Someone has seen fit to carve the heart from the cadaver.

Landor is pressed into service by the academy’s headmaster and his subordinate. His task is to find the fiend who would do such a thing, before word of the dastardly deed reaches the outside world. As you might expect in a story of this sort, the hanging and desecration is just the beginning. More cadets will soon find the feel of the noose, and the indignity of the knife.

But what you might not expect, and what takes this novel out of the realm of the ordinary, is the young cadet who Landor chooses to assist him in his investigations. He is none other than the once and future Edgar Allen Poe. It’s true that the man, whom many consider to be the world’s most illustrious mystery, horror, crime, science fiction writer, was in fact a cadet at West Point. And this fact is used to entertaining effect as The Pale Blue Eye’s author, Louis Bayard, unspools a fiction that could fit nicely into Poe’s own list of terror tales.

Yes, bodies begin to pile up. Hearts continue to disappear. Suspects begin to emerge. Like the post’s physician, a clinical yet secretive man. The head authoritarian, who appears to be wound tighter than an overworked watch. Various cadets, an epileptic spinster, her batty mother, a scullery maid who enjoys frequent dalliances, and perhaps, even Poe himself.

Bayard does a masterful job of bringing the character of young cadet Poe to the page. He emerges as awkward an outsider as he probably actually was. An aspiring free spirited poet who finds himself in the most regimented of environments. But is he also a murderer? Keep turning the pages to find out.

The author captures the speech and cadences of the period without making anything sound stilted or dated. You actually believe it’s autumn near the end of 1830, and you’re just as compelled by the crime fighting devices used then as any you might find on CSI today. Though to Bayard’s credit, there’s more literature than science that leads to this story’s conclusion. And in the best tradition, the ending is both surprising and ordained from the outset.

The Pale Blue Eye was published in 2006. It’s probably still around in paperback or hardcover in some bookstores or online. Seek it out. The 400 plus pages will keep you coming back for more. Like the best of The Fiction Fortune Hunter’s recommendations, it’s unforgettable.

Literary Spontaneous Combustion

Thursday, November 4th, 2010

Much has been written about Norman Mailer. He is certainly one of the most famous authors of the last century. And while his prodigious writing talent is the source of most of that fame, his innate ability as a self-promoter and a publicity magnate bear a large percentage of the responsibility for his fame as well. Two-time Pulitzer Prize winner. Co-founder of The Village Voice. Harvard and Sorbonne alum. Persevering pugilist. Bad film director. Unpredictable chat show guest. His life seemed to be made for the television medium he grew up and grew old with.

Mailer and his contemporaries, such as Truman Capote, Hunter S. Thompson, Tom Wolfe and more, are given credit for innovating what came to be known as narrative nonfiction, or the new journalism. And certainly Mailer’s works, like The Executioner’s Song and The Armies of the Night are fascinating examples of truth scaling literary heights.

But I’d like to focus this post on Norman Mailer’s big bang fiction beginning. In 1948, Rinehart and Company published The Naked And The Dead. A big, meaty, page-turning and thought provoking novel of World War II. It was immediately met with a fusillade of praise. Time magazine called it “the best novel yet about World War II.” Newsweek said it was “brutal, agonizing, astonishingly thoughtful.” The Providence Journal hailed it as “the most important novel since Moby Dick.” The Naked And The Dead, along with James Jone’s From Here To Eternity and Irwin Shaw’s The Young Lions, tower above the infinite number of novels that sprang from that conflict. But Mailer, who was only twenty-four when he penned his masterpiece, seems to this writer, to have best captured all the savagery, heroism, boredom, bravery, cowardice and terrible coincidence that were part and parcel of that gigantic struggle.

The author tells his tale by focusing mostly on one platoon engaged in the battle for the possession of the Japanese-held island of Anopopei in the South Pacific. Through the troopship taking them ashore to the rain-soaked days and nights in pup tents (continually being blown away) to the final mission undertaken to provide recon for the larger invading force, Mailer weaves a tapestry of men engaged in human endeavor no human should be forced to endure. Cutting back and forth between the men on the island and their lives prior to the war, we live with this cross-section of Americans that have since become rather stilted stereotypes in lesser hands. But with Mailer at the helm, their fears, desires, their longing for home and a safer place is mesmerizing. So too is the bigger picture that they are part of, as the author parallels one squad’s struggle with the battalion commander’s intricate offensive that must be achieved at any cost. And always looming overhead, for officer and enlisted man alike, is the constant need to come to grips with why they have to be where they are, and whether they’re really making any difference at all.

Not unlike Orson Welles, who created a sensation in his youth with his film, Citizen Kane, a young Mailer wrote the great book about the great war. And while subsequent efforts in his long and storied life garnered fame and recognition for him as well as his works, none ever eclipsed the power of The Naked And The Dead. The Fiction Fortune Hunter suggests you find the time to read it. It was a modern classic in its day. Now its an historical one.

Short Stories Long, Appetizing History

Monday, October 25th, 2010

The Fiction Fortune Hunter currently has a short story on Story Chord. It’s entitled Those Who Trespass Against Us. This particular short story has been put together as two parallel narratives which evolve into one connected tale of mayhem, loss, treachery and revenge. All the things that make life worthwhile (he said with tongue planted firmly in cheek). To be more literal, it’s the story of a man who’s been convicted of murder, and the executioner who is assigned to hang him. And yes, there’s a surprise or two along the way.

Story Chord has a unique way of publishing stories online. It matches each one with an accompanying piece of art and a music soundtrack. So, if you like to read, with something in the background, you can do so. If not, you can simply read the story without the music.

Online literary magazines publish a lot of shorter fiction today that used to be found in magazines, journals and anthologies. Those venues still exist, but unfortunately in far fewer periodicals than there used to be. Great storytelling can be found in short stories as well as novels. And you can ingest them in bite size chunks as opposed to multi-course meals.

American literature has a long list of great short story writers, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, O’Henry, Poe, Chandler, Salinger, Updike, Bradbury, Asimov, Irving, and more. When you’re not in the mood for voluminous tomes, check out their precise verbal pictorials of life in literary snapshots.

Short stories penned by The Fiction Fortune Hunter have appeared in The Creative Writer, Writers’ Journal, BartlebySnopes, RambleUnderground, Wilderness House LIterary Review and Story Chord. Later this year, two more of my short stories will be appearing. The Encounter in the 9th edition of NthWord, and The Madding Tale in the Winter, December edition of The Writing Disorder. Hope you get a chance to check them out. In 2011, two of my old-and-new-West stories will be published in an anthology of Western stories from Moonlight Mesa.

If you do jump over and read Those Who Trespass Against Us in Story Chord, come back here after reading it and use the comment section of this post to tell me what you think. Don’t worry, I have a thick skin. It’s a requirement for writing fiction in this or any other century.