Monday, July 19, 2010


Here's a passage from Kahawa, by Donald Westlake, to chill your blood in the middle of this nationwide heatwave:

Juba and the major were dumped by the first two (corpses). Then Chase said, “Give me your coat, Captain.”
“Oh, sir,” the captain said. “I did what you wished. Let me go home now. Far away from here, not even Uganda. Near Adi, sir,” he said, naming a Zairian town just a few miles from both the Ugandan and Sudanese borders. “I go there, sir, I never come back.”
“Give me your coat.”
“All my family is there, sir. I go live with them, I never bother you again, sir.”
In the end, Chase had to strip the coat off the body himself.


Thursday, July 8, 2010

Double Feature: Unfilmable Edition

Once the clues have begun to accumulate, and you understand that a novel’s narrator is unreliable, you have to combine your readerly pleasures with other, more writerly duties: You have to pick through the details he offers (“All women find me attractive”) and decide which ones to believe (um, not that one.)

When a film gets made of this type of narrative, though, a genre that’s pretty nimble on the page gets hamstrung in the visual medium, and James Mason or Jeremy Irons wind up cast as Humbert Humbert -- a narrator who, three separate times, tells the reader that he is considered quite handsome; striking, even.

I’ve never believed him, and I never believed Lou Ford, narrator of Jim Thompson’s The Killer Inside Me, when he insists that the women he beats up enjoy it, but the new film version (which gets the setting and the bit players just right) takes him at his word, and so trips right out of the gate.


Patricia Highsmith’s sociopaths are more childlike than Jim Thompson’s, more likely to kill someone and then pretend it didn’t happen, until they’ve convinced themselves it didn’t and move on to other things, if the world will let them, which it won’t.

Given that description, you can guess that her novels depend on a lot of interior monologue, but the recent film of The Cry of the Owl works pretty well without any voiceover narrative. It veers close to a Lifetime Network production at times, but the inherent strangeness of the material, and a good, weird performance by Julia Stiles, keeps it on track. Best of all, nobody pounds Jessica Alba’s face into hamburger.