Thursday, September 21, 2006

Miscellaneous: Flash Fiction

Whenever I wrap up a project, I get in the mood for some flash fiction. My short story Old Home Week is now up at Flashing in the Gutters. Go ahead and read it, I’ll wait.

Book: The Night Gardener, by George Pelecanos (2006)

George Pelecanos is as forthright in his publicity as he is in his fiction. He’s spoken about how the critical acclaim for his novels – a heady mix of sociology and crime fiction – hasn’t translated into sales, and his conscious efforts to turn those circumstances around. (Full disclosure: His last book, Drama City, left me cold. Pelecanos came on like Emile Zola, his writing deeply felt and meticulously observed. But it was the first of his efforts where the balance seemed off to me. It went on to be nominated for an Edgar for best crime novel, so clearly I don’t know what I’m talking about.)

The Night Gardener is Pelecanos eating his cake and having it, too. The plot is right out of the Five Steps To Commercial Fiction Success playbook: a serial killer who last struck twenty years ago may be active again, and a trio of police officers who worked the original murders reunite to investigate. But the oh-so-crafty Pelecanos uses the story as a framework to explore the themes that matter to him: race, family, urban life, and the big question of how to make your way in the world while holding true to the best part of yourself.

And then there’s the writing. Pelecanos has always been able to toss in casual details that define entire worlds. Not simply the world of the novel, but the one we live in – as well as the one we should be living in. A local hoodlum who tells people he’s Jamaican is “as American as folding money and war.” Pelecanos quickly sketches out how a bartender – a supporting character we never meet again – turns an inherited lunch counter into a successful tavern, ending it thusly: “He ... made a good living working less strenuously than his father had. This was how it was supposed to go between fathers and sons.”

Damn. Read this one. You owe it to yourself.