Tuesday, February 07, 2006

Book: The Twisted Thing, by Mickey Spillane (1966)

Beer commercials and the movie version of Kiss Me Deadly. For years that was how I knew Mickey Spillane. The only book of his I tried to read was BLACK ALLEY, which revived his Mike Hammer character in the 1990s. I didn’t finish it.

Still, his name is often invoked with great affection around Chez K. Whenever I suffer delusions of grandeur about my (ahem) career, Rosemarie hits me with R. Lee Ermey’s line from Full Metal Jacket: “You think you’re Mickey Spillane? You think you’re some kind of fucking writer?”

Ermey’s character probably read THE TWISTED THING and enjoyed it as much as I did. It features kidnapping, murder, baby swapping, mad scientists, boy geniuses, and illicit lesbian (correction: Lesbian) photography, all of it served up at a breakneck pace. It’s the kind of book where you’re pretty sure the plot doesn’t make sense, but you couldn’t be bothered to go back and find out.

Then there’s Spillane’s two-fisted writing style, forever teetering on the brink of parody. Here’s Mike Hammer encountering a vulnerable young woman:

“Impertinent breasts that mocked my former hesitance, a flat stomach waiting for the touch to set off the fuse, thighs that wanted no part of shielding cloth.”

Coincidentally, I knew a guy named Shielding Cloth. One of those Choate bastards, never picked up a check.

Or consider our hero at the moment of revelation:

“The pieces didn’t have to be fitted into place any longer ... they were being drawn into a pattern of murder as if by a magnet under the board, a pattern of death as complicated as a Persian tapestry, ugly enough to hang in Hitler’s own parlor.”

Spillane once said that if your first sentence sells the book, your last sentence sells the next book. THE TWISTED THING has a corker.

When I had to do a recitation for a college English course, I did ‘If’ by Rudyard Kipling. I’d memorized the poem for an assignment in fifth grade and had trotted it out ever since. (I don’t like to work very hard.) Most other students chose similar material. My friend Pat, however, held the room rapt with the legendary ending to Spillane’s first novel I, THE JURY. To this day, I wish I’d thought of that.