Thursday, June 08, 2006

Books: Caught Stealing (2004) & Six Bad Things (2005), by Charlie Huston

Am I getting cranky in my dotage? Is that the thing? In recent days I’ve groused about the beginning of Bust and the end of The Dramatist. I’ve also discovered Charlie Huston, the most exciting new writer to come down the pike in ages – and can only brood about the one aspect of his work that I don’t like.

Hank Thompson once had a promising career as a baseball player ahead of him. Thanks to an injury he’s now adrift, an alcoholic working as a New York bartender. He’s still a mensch, though. In Caught Stealing he even agrees to take in his neighbor’s cat, a good dead that unleashes a frenzy of violence Manhattan won’t soon forget.

Hank’s a truly memorable character, with an urgent but vulnerable voice. I have a bad habit of glossing over action scenes in books, but Huston’s are compelling. Nothing sucks harder in fiction than dream sequences, but Huston delivers one that not only serves a purpose but broke my bloody heart. In the playoff scenario used as a framing device, the Mets – my beloved New York Mets – are the villains. And I still liked the book.

And yet.

It’s built around the most minimal of wrong man plots. Various heavies mistakenly believe Hank knows where a big pile of money is. That’s it. As a result Hank becomes a vortex of mayhem, destroying the lives of everyone he cares about. With a body count this high, I can’t help wishing that events were driven by something more.

I try not to read books by the same author consecutively, but I couldn’t get Hank out of my head. So I broke that rule and plunged directly into Six Bad Things, which picks up Hank’s story three years later.

Like many sequels, the plotting is a bit mechanical. And there’s still a hollowness at the core of the havoc. But Hank has become an even richer character. His exposure to violence has changed him – and what’s worse is that Hank is all too aware of the transformation.

A third installment, A Dangerous Man, will complete Hank’s saga later this year. I might as well put in my order for it now. Despite my reservations, these books are absolutely riveting. I can’t wait to see where Huston goes from here.

Miscellaneous: Just Wait For The Alaskan Polar Bear Heater Number

Jerry Lewis plans on turning The Nutty Professor into a musical. I mention this because I caught the end of the original movie on TV the other night, and immediately bought the only version of Buddy Love’s song “We’ve Got A World That Swings” on iTunes. It’s by jazz pianist/singer Tony DeSare, and it’s a dandy. Not sure I’d want to build a lavish stage production around it, though.