Friday, April 16, 2010
Forgotten Books, Friday, April 16, 2010
Don't forget-Two weeks from today, forgotten story collections-single or multiple authors.
Also, for the writers out there, Chad Rorhbacher is running a flash fiction contest with the book THE DEPUTY by Victor Gishler as prize. Stop by and have a look.
Some of the reviews may appear later today.
Anonymous 9 is the author of stories to be found on zines across the Internet. Currently she is nominated for a Spinetingler Award for one of them.
The Pawnbroker by Edward Lewis Wallant
My favorite new writer is old and dead. He’s new to me, forgotten by others. But he deserves to be remembered, and his masterwork, The Pawnbroker, is immortal.
The Pawnbroker was published in 1961, and my first introduction was a scuffed, mildewed copy, purchased for $1.89 used, on Amazon. The novel is commonly described as the story of a Harlem pawnbroker, Sol Nazerman, who saw his wife and family
destroyed in a concentration camp. Now a successful Harlem-based pawnbroker, Nazerman is plagued with flashbacks and symptoms similar to what is now called Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.
The Pawnbroker is a lightening-bright portrait of a man who has lost his faith in humanity. At this level, the novel qualifies as hardboiled. Wallant’s elegant prose elevates the story to high literary quality, so you could never call this pulp fiction, but the hardboiled quality is the best there is. Revelations of human nature are almost painful to read; stripped of romance,
sentimentality and lurid tittilation. It’s almost enough to turn the reader away, but the beauty of the words carries you along to a transformative ending. Here’s a short excerpt of Wallant’s beautiful prose:
He looked up from the phone to see Ortiz studying the engraved plaque under Daniel Webster’s bust. The store was dim even with the lights on, so the quality of light was at fault, not the intensity. Outside, the evening sun made the street shimmer in a golden bath through which the passers-by moved like dark swimmers in no hurry to get anywhere. He breathed, with his assistant, the unimaginable odors of sweat and pride and weepiing; and it was indefinable yet powerful atmosphere, which gave them an intimacy neither desired.
Edward Lewis Wallant died at age 36, the year after The Pawnbroker was published. It was made into a movie starring Rod Steiger, directed by Sydney Lumet, and Steiger won a Best Actor Oscar for the role. When Wallant died, America lost, not just a great writer, but possibly its greatest writer and observer of humanity. He has been compared to writing legends Saul Bellow and Philip Roth. My opinion is, with no disrespect intended, that they should be so lucky.
Ed Gorman is the author of TICKET TO RIDE, and the forthcoming anthology BY HOOK OR BY CROOK. You can find him here.
The Stories of Ray Bradbury
For many writers my age, and I mean writers of all kinds, Ray Bradbury was responsible for our first encounter with stories as rich with language as they were the telling itself. The Martian Chronicles and The Illustrated Man became high school staples throughout the country. Fahrenheit 451 and Something Wicked This Ways Comes became novels accessible and appreciated by young readers of every taste. He became sui generis for high school English departments looking for a good writer students would enjoy reading.
To celebrate Bradbury's long and imposing career Knopf has published The Stories of Ray Bradbury in its Everyman's Library series. Essentially the books gathers stories from each of Bradbury's various collections over the years. Thus we have some of his finest stories ever gathered from his first collection Dark Carnival as a starting point and follow him through the stylist changes he made over the years.
As much as I like Bradbury--I still have Martin Chronicles and Illustrated Man on my the shelf next to my desk--when A Medicine for Melancholy appeared I saw the first tonal and stylistic changes immediately. So did my friend Doug Humble. I still remember the gist of our conversation after we'd both finished the book. We didn't much care for these new stories. They seemed self-conscious--written. Say what you will about his pulp days, the graceful writing, the striking Thomas Wolfeian images, came natural and supported the tale at hand. But these stories...
I didn't give up on Bradbury. As this collection demonstrates he remained a fine storyteller his entire career. There are pieces here from the eighties that are just as dazzling as many of his tales from the fifties. But it's always seemed to me that he decided that he was a poet and that that interfered with his natural process. To me too much of his poetry is posy.
There's an introduction by Christopher Buckley that offers no new information or insight so we are left with the book itself. And not only is it beautifully made but just about every story here honors the Bradbury legend. In a very real sense he's been a key writer to writers and readers of at least three generations and this collection is the ultimate tribute.
One more thing: I wish people, Bradbury included, would stop saying he's not a very good novelist. Anybody who wrote Death is A Lonely Business and A Graveyard For Lunatics after a three-decade career as a fantastist is a FIRST-RATE novelist. And a major contributor to the noir canon as well. Don't forget one of his favorite writers has always been Cornell Woolrich.
Thanks for a lifetime of great reading, Ray.
Jerry House lives in Southern Maryland. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
TARZAN AND THE SILVER GLOBE by "Barton Werper"
The pseudonymous Barton Werper produced five unauthorized Tarzan novels in 1964-5, all of which were published by a small and short-lived Connecticut paperback house; TARZAN AND THE SILVER GLOBE was the first of these trainwrecks. Luckily for those with discerning literary tastes, the Edgar Rice Burroughs estate sued and publication stopped, with unsold copies being pulped. (An interesting paradox here: small prints runs and remaining copies destroyed, yet, when I checked the internet, it seems everybody and his/her brother [with the exception of Patti] has at least one copy of the five books.)
As for TATSG, Tarzan returns to everybody's favorite lost city, Opar, to pick up some more of the gold that had been stashed in a secret cave. Lurking above the jungle is the silver globe, which is a spaceshp from Venus making one its periodical trips to earth obstensibly to pick up specimens for a Venusian zoo. The ship is captained by Glamo (who has a prehensile tail) who actually came back to get Marda (his mate--no tail), who had been accidently left behind two or three hundred years before. And so we learn that Venusians are long-lived and extremely forgetful. We also learn that Marda is La, bloodthirsy ruler of Opar and frequent luster after Tarzan.
Crewing the ship are the Followers, octopoid creatures who communicate with each other by noxious smells. The Followers like to eat raw, fresh meat so some sacrifices have to be made. One such sacrifice would be Jane, to Glamo's regret because Jane's beauty has got Glamo's tail a-twitchin'. Jane was captured while she was out with the great apes. Pretty soon, we have Waziri warriors, great apes, elephants, rhinos, boars, and many other types of African fauna descending on Opar in search of Jane and Tarzan...Oh. Tarzan. Well, he was trapped by a cave-in. And attacked by a Follower. And trapped in the silver globe. And...you know the routine.
By the way, the Followers are indestructable. Their brains are located on the end of each of their deadly eight tentacles. They can only be hurt by gold, which is a pretty rare commodity on Venus. Venus does not seem to have grasped the truth in advertising concept, because the Followers are not indestructable: Tarzan makes quick work of the one he fights. (They are indestructable on Venus, though, where there is little gold and no Tarzan.)
From here on in, things get confusing.
The plot doesn't make much sense. The characters are paper-thin. The writing is haphazard. The racism is overt. All of these also have been criticisms of Edgar Rice Burroughs. Burroughs, however, was able to propel a story along. Werper drags this story through the jungle and the mud and the prickly bushes, where it gets ravaged by insects and eaten by snakes, leaving vital parts of it behind as he goes.
"Barton Werper" was a pen name for Peter T. and Peg O'Neill Scott. Evidently Peter Scott wrote this one and the second, fourth and fifth books in the series, whle Peg Scott wrote the third. Peg Scott also wrote the paperback sleaze collection Martian Sexpot as "Scott O'Neill", which was not very sleazy and contained many of the finest traits that Barton Werper exemplified.
The name "Barton Werper", by the way, was taken from a character in one of Burroughs' Tarzan novels. I'm sure someone much more obsessive than I can tell you which one.
Recommended if you have little taste, want to know what is at the bottom of the barrel, or feel you need to endure a painful rite of passage.