Thursday, July 31, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Meeting Evil

I’m the only fan of Thomas Berger’s Meeting Evil (from 1992) that I know of. Everyone who has read the book on my recommendation has reported disliking it. I sympathize. The book is an uneasy marriage of the thriller, serial killer division (think Charlie Starkweather, not John Wayne Gacy) and classic farce (hero attempting to continue to play by the rules of polite society in the face of utter chaos). If you come for the thriller, the hero’s dilemmas will probably seem like unconscionable dithering; if you come for the farce, the villain’s mad cruelty may be too much to take. I remember loving every word of it.

Scenes From A Re-Education

Fourteen years ago, while reading The Adventures of Augie March in the break room of the bookstore where I worked, I was brought up short when Saul Bellow used a word I didn’t know – lepidopterous – to describe a chair.

What’s lepidopterous mean? I said.

A co-worker eating lunch looked up from the sports page and said: Butterfly-like.

Thanks, I said, and re-read the passage.

And thought:

Ah, I see it. What a brilliant image. What a wordsmith.

And then thought:

Wait a minute…

So…it’s a wing chair?

Monday, July 28, 2008

Bought | Read | Reading


LaBrava, Elmore Leonard
Up In Honey’s Room, Elmore Leonard
Bandits, Elmore Leonard
No House Limit, Steve Fisher
Small Crimes, Dave Zeltserman
Baby Moll, John Farris


(Five Elmore Leonard novels)
Valdez Is Coming
52 Pickup
Riding The Rap


Small Crimes, Dave Zeltserman

Friday, July 25, 2008

Friday's Forgotten Book: Quick Change

Newspaperman Jay Cronley wrote a handful of funny novels that were made it into fitfully-amusing movies. Quick Change is the best of the lot in a walk. A brilliant bank heist is followed by a spectacularly-botched getaway. Everyone’s nastier than in the Bill Murray film, and they all have ulterior motives the movie barely hints at, especially the cab driver. The plot begs comparison to Donald Westlake’s Dortmunder books, but I think of Cronley as more the poor man’s Charles Portis.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Double Feature

(Back from vacation)

Early in The Dark Knight, The Joker and his henchmen crash a party in Bruce Wayne’s penthouse, terrorize his guests – Gotham City’s elite. When Batman intervenes, The Joker throws our hero’s girlfriend out the window. Batman dives after her, breaks both their falls with his cape or something: They crash onto the roof of a cab but are apparently unharmed, and his girlfriend says her “I’m-too-old-for-this-shit” line, and………scene.
What’s happening back in the penthouse? What becomes of the rest of the partygoers? (Joker has been killing most everyone he meets.) If the villain and his cohorts simply flee the party at this point…how? Nothing is shown or even mentioned. Somehow, it’s just not important. Reviews are lauding the film’s narrative strengths.

Lack of interest in consequences firmly established, the filmmakers proceed(quickly) to make the battle for Gotham City resemble the War On Terror, but never decide whether they are for or against winning at any cost. In Wanted, the filmmakers set their sights lower – it’s the old high-school-freshman late-night-debate: “If you could go back in time and kill Hitler, would you do it?” – and they still muff the answer.