Monday, June 13, 2005

Book: Citizen Vince, by Jess Walter (2005)

Great. Now I’ve got to come up with something else to call my memoirs.

It wasn’t the title that got me to read this book, although to be honest it helped. It was the name Jess Walter on the cover. With his third novel, Walter vaults to the top of the short list of authors whose work I won’t miss.

His previous effort, LAND OF THE BLIND, perhaps shouldn’t have been marketed as a mystery novel; no real crime is committed, and yet everyone is somehow guilty. It was one of my favorite books of 2003.

The genre is thick with writers who claim to be regionalists, but Walter is the genuine article. All of his books feature loving depictions of Spokane, Washington, where Walter works as a newspaper reporter. His portrait of this overlooked, hardscrabble corner of America is one of his strengths.

The Vince of the title looks at the city with fresh eyes. He’s a low-level New York hood dropped into the Pacific Northwest courtesy of the witness protection program in 1980. Armed with one legitimate skill – making donuts – he tries to start his new life. Which includes, for the first time, voting. There’s a presidential election coming up, and Vince is determined to make the right choice: Carter or Reagan? Even the appearance of another East Coast thug isn’t about to deter Vince from fulfilling his obligations as a citizen.

It’s a terrific book – funny, packed with surprise cameos, and ultimately moving. Walter’s three-for-three now, and I can’t wait for the next one.