Monday, May 21, 2012

Books: Collecting Collections

Here are two anthologies – one fiction, one not – that warrant your attention.

Renegades is a collection of long-form reportage by my friend Robert Ward. The articles were originally published during the heyday of “new journalism,” a form that in the hands of some practitioners meant putting themselves center stage or close to it. Bob instinctively knew how much presence he should have in his pieces, admitting that he was so intoxicated by the aura of celebrity surrounding artist LeRoy Neiman that he told a curious blonde he was Hunter Thompson, acknowledging that his own dumbfounded reactions to the madness that surrounded Larry Flynt during the ascendancy of Hustler magazine were a part of the story. (It’s worth picking up the book for the Flynt article alone.) His show business profiles are dispatches from a distant era, when reporters hung out and boozed up with the likes of Lee Marvin and Robert Mitchum; there’s not a publicist anywhere near these pages, no empty platitudes or paragraphs devoted to the star’s favorite eco-charity. Included is Bob’s most famous piece, “Reggie Jackson in No-Man’s Land,” in which the new Yankee proclaims himself “the straw that stirs the drink.” It’s become such a part of Pinstripe lore that it was featured in an ESPN miniseries in which Bob plays himself, because no professional actor could capture his dissolute charisma. There’s a thread throughout the book about how sports and music can lift you out of yourself, offering glimpses of a wider world. Taken as a whole the pieces tell the larger story of Bob’s evolution from Baltimore boy to journalist, novelist, and screenwriter. A true blast from the past.

Terence Faherty has published several novels about Scott Elliott, the one-time Paramount player turned Tinseltown private eye, and won two Shamus awards along the way. The short stories collected in The Hollywood Op span Elliott’s career from the 1940s through the ‘60s. “Garbo’s Knees” finds Elliott digging into the theft of a concrete slab from Grauman’s Chinese Theater, and “Closing Credits” is a haunting entry about the sins of the blacklist echoing years later. “Sleep Big” is an impressive piece of literary legerdemain, serving as both Elliott’s origin story and a plausible answer to the confounding question of “Who killed Owen Taylor in Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep?”