My formative years were the Fifties. The films that influenced me the most were the noirs my father took me to and such fare as The Sweet Smell of Success and A Face in the Crowd. No heroes there. The same for my preferred reading (in additon to the Gold Medals and sf)--Hemingway, James Jones, Irwin Shaw (short stories), Graham Greene and Richard Wright among others. No heroes there either. Same for theater (I was writing terrible plays early on). O'Neill, Miller, Williams. Not a hero in sight.
We call a good deal of crime fiction dark. But is it? Cops replaced cowboys and now we have Cops (or investigators of any kind) with Personal Problems and reviewers think this is some kind of dangerous fiction. Not to me.
The constraints of commercial fiction are such that you risk losing a sale if your protagoist is an outright loser. The Brits were way ahead of us Yanks. Derek Raymond has spawned two generations of daring writers. The first time I read him I was struck by how much the texture of his prose reminded me of one of my five favorite books of all time, Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell. I read fifty pages of it the other day. What with globalization the world is once again as Orwell described it in the Thirties.
The literary writer Brian Moore (who started out writing Gold Medals and Dell originals under three different names) made a brief early career out of losers. The Lucky Of Ginger Coffee, for only one example, is about a daydreamer most people love but who is ultimately a selfish man whose daydreams are destroying his wife and children. He can't accept that he's an average guy--a loserbyhis lights. And that turns him into a dark loser indeed.
F. Scott Fitzgerald's work is filled with losers. Handsome, poetic ones, yes, but losers nonetheless. Winter Dreams, as one of his best stories is called, describes the near lifelong love of a man for woman he can never have. He has great business success but he is a loser because he can never have her. The last few pages will give you chills.
Here we have The Pat Hobby Stories. They are set in the Hollywood the late Thirties and feature a once prominent screeenwriter who is reduced to virtually begging for work at the various studios that once wined and dined him. The Fitzgerald myth is so tied to the notion of Romantic Loss that we forget that he was also funnier than hell. And causitc.
As Arnold Gingrich said shortly after Fitzgerald's death, "These stories were the last word from his last home, for much of what he felt about Hollywood and about himself permeated these stories."
And damned good stories they are, too. Not major Fitzgerald but cunning and crafty tales of bars, studios, whores of both genders, unhappy winners and drunken losers.
My favorite here is "Pat Hobby and Orson Welles." The luckless Hobby is hanging around the writer's building trying to cadge anything he can get--even a B-western--when somebody mentions Orson Welles. And Hobby almost loses it. Everywere he turns he hears about Orson Welles--newspaper, magazines, radio, movies. Orson Welles Orson Welles.
Fitzgerald uses Welles as a symbol of generational turn. Hobby and other men his age were major players in their time but now their time is gone. One studio head admits (reluctantly) to Hobby that he doesn't know what the hell all the fuss about Welles is either but dammit the young people on his staff swoon every time his name is mentioned. So this studio head and others push enormous sums of money on Welles. Hobby bitterly wonders why Welles doesn't stay in the East where he belongs---with the snobs. The West, dammit, is for common folk. (Well, except for the mansions and Rodeo Drive.)
This is a book filled with boozy grief, hilarious bitterness and a fascinating look from the inside as to what writers went through under the old studio management.
As Fitzgerald himself said, "This was not art, this was industry. (Who) you sat with at lunch was more important than what you (wrote) in your office."
A fine little collection.
HOUSEKEEPING VS THE DIRT, NICK HORNBY (2006)
George mentioned Nick Hornby's books last week so when I went into a used bookstore and found two, I bought them. This one collects Horby's column from BELIEVER MAGAZINE from 2005-2006. Hornby has one of those voices you can't resist. And he is so skilled at talking about books while also talking about his life it's a double whammy. He is everything you expect from a British writer: witty, charming, smart. In this collection he discusses books by Marilyn Robinson, Sarah Vowell, Amanda Eyre Ward, Jesse Walter, Michael Frayn, Anthony Burgess, etc. He is never less than interesting. Never stuffy or dry. Quite an art, he's mastered. If the trick is getting you to want to read the books, he is a master. I even want to reread the ones I've read like Frayn's SPIES and Robinson's HOUSEKEEPING.
Sergio Angelini, POSTERN OF FATE, Agatha Christie
Yvette Banek, MURDER GONE MAD, Philip MacDonald
Joe Barone, SMALLER AND SMALLER CIRCLES, F. H. Batacan
Les Blatt, THE MYSTERY OF A HANSOM CAB, Fergus Hume
Brian Busby, TORONTO LIFE and two other entries
Bill Crider, CLEA'S MOON, Edward Wright
Scott Cupp, SPACE FOR HIRE, William F. Nolan
Martin Edwards, SEND FOR PAUL TEMPLE, Francis Durbridge
John Hegenberger, NO HARD FEELINGS, Mark Coggins
Rick Horton, Two Books by Margaret St. Clair
Jerry House, TAKEOFF, C.M. Kornbluth
Nick Jones, GOD SAVE THE MARK, Donald Westlake
George Kelle, MCBAIN'S LADIES 2, Ed McBain
Margot Kinberg, BITTER WASH ROAD, Gary Disher
Rob Kitchin, LEHRTER STATION, David Downing
B.V. Lawson, THORNE IN THE FLESH, Rhona Petrie
Evan Lewis, SEVEN BOOKS REVIEWED BY DASHIELL HAMMETT
Steve Lewis, BY EVIL MEANS, Sandra West Prowell
Todd Mason, I CANNOT TELL A LIE EXACTLY, Mary Ladd Gavell
James Reasoner, THE PERSIAN CAT, John Flagg
Richard Robinson, DEATH AND THE DUTCH UNCLE, Patricia Moyes
Gerard Saylor, COMPLEX 90. Mickey Spillane and Max Allan Collins
Kevin Tipple/Barry Ergang, THE JULIUS CAESAR MURDER CASE, Wallace Irwin
TracyK, HOPSCOTCH, Brian Garfield
Prashant Trikannad, THE MASTER EXECUTIONER, Loren Estleman
Westlake Review, HOPSCOTCH, Brian Garfield (not a typo)
A. J. Wright, Book Covers of O.R. Cohen