Sunday, June 07, 2009

Book: The Way Home, by George Pelecanos (2009)

When George Pelecanos is good – witness The Night Gardener – he has few peers. When he misses, he manages to do so in his own unique way. The unsuccessful Pelecanos novels seem to have been set down on paper because there were no stone tablets handy. They’re not sober but somber, ascetic to the point of being overbearing. Reading his books is occasionally like falling into conversation with a guy at a bar who becomes steadily more grave until he seizes your arm and says, “Let me tell you what it means to be a man.” Then you shake him off and point out that you only came in for a cold beer and some of the ball game, and things stay awkward until you close out your tab with the game still in progress.

That said, I prefer Pelecanos’s approach, always mindful of choice and consequence in people’s lives, to the cavalier one prevalent in other crime fiction. And I continue to pick up every book he writes.

It’s no surprise that The Way Home is one of his stronger outings, because he’s working with the genre’s elemental plot – The Bag of Money. It’s an intriguingly structured book, the first third devoted to the adolescence of Chris Flynn, a troubled kid from a good working class background. He finally goes too far and ends up doing juvenile time. Several years later he’s working as a carpet installer at the family business. Unambitious and half-heartedly trying to go straight, he’s still a worry for his father. And he continues to hang out with people he met on the inside.

Then, on a job, he discovers The Bag of Money.

The simplicity of the story and the leanness of Pelecanos’s prose complement each other here, leading up to a finale with genuine understated power. Pelecanos introduces the shrewish realtor trying to flip a house Chris is working on, apparently a minor character, then beautifully sketches in the woman’s life with a few concise paragraphs involving a waitress at the restaurant she frequents. He then goes one better by giving us the totality of the waitress’s existence in miniature. This is one of the Pelecanos books that’s like buying a round for a stranger to keep the conversation going.

On The Web: Ebony, Ivory & Jade

Meet my new favorite thing on the internet, courtesy of Jaime Weinman. It’s the titles to Ebony, Ivory & Jade, a busted 1979 TV pilot starring Bert Convy and Debbie Allen. (Convy is Jade, in case you were wondering.) As far as I can tell, the premise is Tony Orlando & Dawn as crimefighters. As far as I’m concerned, that’s pure genius. Turns out it was written by one of my heroes Jimmy Sangster, from a story by M*A*S*H’s Mike Farrell. I want this show found, and found now.

On The Web: New Blogs In Town

Hey! Joe R. Lansdale has a blog!

Hey! Scott Phillips has a blog, too!