Friday, March 16, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 15, 2018

SAY FRIENDS, As you finish I BRING SORROW (if you do!) I would be most grateful for an Amazon review. Say what you will, a small press published author needs those review. Thanks!

The Condemned, Jo Pagano, 1947 (from the archives, Jake Hinson)
To understand The Condemned, Jo Pagano’s strange hybrid of social commentary and gritty noir, a little background is in order. Born in 1906, Pagano was the youngest son of Italian immigrants who came to Colorado at the turn of the century so Pagano’s father could work as a miner. Jo quickly figured out that writing stories beat the hell out of swinging a pickax, and by the thirties he had started selling stories to magazines like The Atlantic, Scribners, Reader’s Digest, and Yale Review.

He moved to Hollywood, and by the late thirties, he was working at RKO Pictures. Around this time Pagano became friends with the novelist William Faulkner. The great writer was in Hollywood doing script rewrites for Howard Hawks, but he spent most of his days chasing girls and getting shitfaced with other scribblers. At the time, Faulkner’s work was little read outside highbrow literary circles, but Pagano was already a devoted fan. Because Pagano could match the Mississippian drink for drink, the two men became fast friends. Faulkner became Pagano’s literary mentor and took special care to warn him about the hazards of selling out to Hollywood. Talent, Faulkner believed, couldn’t survive the compromises one had to make with the studios. He told Pagano simply, “Jo, you have got to get out of this town.” In the midst of this tutelage with Faulkner, Pagano published his third book, The Condemned, in 1947.

The novel was based on the true story of Thomas Harold Thurmond and John M. Holmes, who in 1933 had abducted and murdered a wealthy man named Brooke Hart. After the killers were apprehended and confessed to the crime, thousands of angry people descended on the Santa Clara County jail in San Jose, dragged the men from their cells, and hanged them from two trees across the street. Pagano changed the names and turned the story into a serious crime drama. The central conflict is that of Howard Tyler, an everyman living in postwar California. He can’t find work to support his family, so he takes a job as getaway driver for a small time crook, and big time psycho, named Jerry Slocum. This decision turns out to be a catastrophic mistake because soon Jerry has decided that he and Howard need to move up the criminal ladder to kidnapping.

Neither of Pagano’s previous books—both of which were affectionate evocations of family life among Italian Americans—would have prepared a reader for The Condemned. This novel is a serious literary attempt to deal with Hart’s murder and the subsequent lynching of Thurmond and Holmes. As such, it marks a sharp departure from his previous books in terms of both focus and tone. It is also something of a swing for the fences in terms of style. It bears unmistakable Faulknerian touches such as shifting perspectives, shocking violence, and buried psychosexual motivations, but it also owes a debt to Steinbeck’s social consciousness. It was Pagano’s attempt to write a great, important novel.

After its initial printing in hardback failed to bring literary glory, however, the book was radically abridged and repackaged as pulp (a process that would continue for years: Zenith Books re-released the book in 1958 under the title Die Screaming). The book isn’t entirely successful. Pagano’s weakness as a writer was preachiness. He gives us the character of Dr. Simone, an Italian professor who functions as the film’s moral and intellectual color commentator. This character mouths all of the appropriate leftist horror at the American financial and judicial systems. Moralizing in noir usually comes in the form of boring authoritarians espousing a right wing point of view, but Dr. Simone’s sermons prove that preaching doesn’t work any better when it comes from the left.

In many ways, the abridgment makes for a better read. It focuses more on the central story of the killers—in particular on Howard Tyler’s terrible guilt. After all, the key tension in the story is Howard’s gnawing sense of his own culpability, the tortured humanity of a normal man who fumbles into theft and murder and then watches in horror as his life falls apart. Soon, Pagano accepted the job of adapting the book into a screenplay for producer Robert Stillman. The resulting film that Pagano and director Cy Endfield delivered, The Sound Of Fury, was a masterpiece, a dark and serious look at American society in the post-war era. Endfield rightly seized on Pagano’s strongest material and brought it to the front of the film. He also kept Pagano’s strong supporting cast of characters: crazy homme fatale Jerry Slocum, the careless newspaperman Gil Stanton, and Hazel, the odd young woman who exposes Howard to the police.

The film met with great opposition, with theater managers across the country catching flack for running such an “anti-American” picture at the outset of the Korean War. The film was re-titled Try And Get Me! and peddled around as a genre piece (much as the book had been), but it quickly sank into obscurity. Stubbornly, the film lived on, and as film geeks rediscovered it, its reputation grew. It is now in line for a major restoration by the Film Noir Foundation. Pagano’s novel doesn’t have the same reputation that film the does, but this strange and beguiling work is well worth seeking out. Read Jake Hinkson’s review of Endfield’s movie adaption The Sound Of Fury at The Night Editor. 

Les Blatt, FOREIGN BODIES, ed. Martin Edwards,
Elgin Bleecker, ODD MAN OUT, F.L. Green 
Brian Busby, THE LIVELY CORPSE, Margaret Millar
CrossExaminingCrime, THE RIGHT MURDER, Craig Rice
Martin Edwards, INVISIBLE WEAPONS, John Rhode
Rick Horton, THE MASQUERADER, Katherine Cecil Thurston
Jerry House, BEST PSYCHIC STORIES, Joseph Lewis French
Margot Kinberg, SOLOMON V. LORD, Paul Levine
B,V, Lawson, THE CRIMSON BLIND Frederick Merrick White
Evan Lewis, LONESOME DOVE, Larry McMurtry
Todd Mason,  FFM: THE MAGAZINE OF FANTASY AND SCIENCE FICTION, March 1978, edited by Edward Ferman; FANTASTIC, July 1978, edited by Ted White 
J.F. Norris, CAST A COLD EYE, Alan Ryan
Matt Paust, CRY OF SHADOWS, Ed Gorman 
James Reasoner, WHITE SAVAGE, John Peter Drummond
Gerard Saylor, THE HOMECOMING, Harold Pinter
Kevin Tipple. DEADLY CURRENTS, Beth Groundwater
TomCat, JACK IN THE BOX, J.J. Connington
TracyK, THE BLACK SERAPHIM, Michael Gilbert

Thursday, March 15, 2018

School Walkout

This was certainly a moving experience with the kids (11-14) making their own speeches. The 100 adults surrounded 300 students and teachers.It put my book launch into perspective because this is the real future. Hopefully these kids will always have their priorities straight. And maybe teach their parents something.

The launch went well. Everyone seemed to enjoy themselves. Of course, everyone was a friend of ours and felt obliged to show up,

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

What are we all reading?

I am reading THE BOOK OF JOY for my book group. I go back and forth between loathing it and loving it. Way too many cliches but there is such good intention on the part of the two men who converse (the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu) that I have to give it leeway.

I am also reading THE CUCKOO's CALLING by J.K. Rowlings which seems pretty good. Also looking at information on the prairie. I got fooled however. I saw a book which described itself as pictures of the prairie. What it did not state was that it was a children's book. Or perhaps it did but I overlooked it. Also the pictures are pretty dull and way too modern. There's a sucker born...

Next up Alison Gaylin's new book

Phil is reading WHEN THE SACRED GIN MILL CLOSES. Just finished WONDER VALLEY by Ivy Pochoda.
How about you?

Neglected Movies: Meek's Cutoff

Well, this movie led to an Abbott dispute. I found it mesmerizing. Phil found it boring. Very little happens and the ending is abrupt and vague. Based on a true story, it tells the tale of a small group of pioneers heading for Oregon with a guide named Meek who convinces them he knows the way. When they appear lost, they have to choose between picking an Indian who's been hanging around as their new guide or sticking with Meek. Michelle Williams has the biggest role but all of the cast serve it well. directed it.

Monday, March 12, 2018

Thanks, Matt


ANNIHILATION-loved it. Is it about cancer, depression, environmental degradation or just about those darn aliens trying to get a foothold through commandeering a human host? Whatever meaning you choose, it was gorgeous and nice to see women in the leading roles. Loved Garland's EX MACHINA a few years back too.

Happy to be doing research on the development of the prairie cities. I always forget how much I enjoy research, which is why I was a history major, I guess. That is not to say I have gotten a start on a story yet. That's what often trips me up. When do you climb out of the rabbit hole?

Happy that the Friends of the Huntington Woods Library have willed me food and wine for my event Wednesday night. I have met so many generous, loving people in this neighborhood. They are always trying to make things better.

Love Season Two of Hap and Leonard and my husband even more than me. They have a winning formula there with the setting, actors, stories.

Wonderful doc on Netflix about the artist, Eva Hesse. 

Friday, March 09, 2018

Friday's Forgotten Books, March 9, 2018

Paul St. Pierre, Smith and Other Events (1984) (from the archives Ron Scheer)

Long out of print, Paul St. Pierre's stories in this collection are a total pleasure—wryly humorous and sharply detailed in their understanding of his characters' behavior, motives, and feelings. Set mostly in the Chilcotin of British Columbia, the stories take place in the 1950s and share the same dozen or so characters—ranchers and their families, Indians, a cowboy or two, and a storekeeper.

The longest story, "How to Run the Country," involves a handful of politicos in Vancouver who persuade a local rancher to run for office. The author, having served a term as a Member of Parliament himself, tells this story with apparent delight as he interweaves the complex ironies of political careers and ambitions.

My favorites of the bunch include stories about the premature funeral for an old Indian from the local reservation, the long suffering of a ranch wife who literally spills the beans on her husband, an elderly recluse's long-distance romance with a young woman, and a husband and wife's indecision about whether to sell the ranch. In another, a mid-winter trip to town evolves, thanks to a cowboy's gambling winnings, into a days-long bacchanal in a hotel room.

Smith, the title character, is vividly drawn, perfectly believable, and as likable as he can be obtuse. The others, his wife Norah, sons Sherwood and Roosevelt, Arch McGregor, Morton Dilloughboy and his son Abel, cowboy Henry James, Ol Antoine the Indian patriarch, Frenchie and Frenchie's wife (who gets her own story), all of them are equally memorable, including Ken Larsen, whose arch-conservative values are no obstacle to his loyalty to the Liberal Party.

St. Pierre’s novel Breaking Smith’s Quarter Horse (reviewed here a while ago) takes up with the same characters and is equally enjoyable. Smith and Other Events is currently available at amazon, AbeBooks, and alibris.

Mark Baker, CRY FOUL, Sandy Dengler
Yvette Banek, COLUMBELLA, Phyllis Whitney
Elgin Bleecker, THE KILLINGS AT BADGER DRIFT, Caroline Graham
Brian Busby, BACKSTAGE NURSE, Judith Rossiter (W.E.D. Ross)
CrossExaminingCrime, DEADLY NIGHTSHADE, Elizabeth Daly
Martin Edwards, DEATH RUNS ON SKIS, Hetty Ritchie
Richard Horton, The Rim Gods, by A. Bertram Chandler/The High Hex, by Laurence M. Janifer and S. J. Treibich
Jerry House, END OF A.J.D. Robert Terrall
Margot Kinberg,  INNOCENCE; or, Murder on Steep Street, Heda Margolius Kov├íly
B.V. Lawson, THE PLOT THICKENS, ed. Mary Higgins Clark
Steve Lewis/Barry Gardner, FINAL EDIT, ROBERT CARTER 
Todd Mason, WHISPERS, An Illustrated Anthology of Fantasy and Horror ed. Stuart David Schiff
J.F. Norris, IF WISHES WERE HEARSES, Guy Cullingford
Matt Paust, SIX EASY PIECES, Walter Mosley 
James Reasoner, RETURN OF THE KID, Joseph Wayne
Gerard Saylor, MAGNUS HUNTER ROBOT Russ Hunter
Kevin Tipple./Barry Egrang Bar-20, Clarence E. Mulford
TomCat, THE CLOCK IN THE HATBOX, Anthony Gilbert

Zybahn, PRISONER 489, Joe R. Lansdale