Sunday, May 10, 2015

Three Books Examining The Writing Of David Foster Wallace

Here is some information on three books examining the writing of David Foster Wallace. The first one was published last month and the other two will be published in early 2016.

Freedom and the Self: Essays on the Philosophy of David Foster Wallace
The book Fate, Time, and Language: An Essay on Free Will, published in 2010 by Columbia University Press, presented David Foster Wallace's challenge to Richard Taylor's argument for fatalism. In this anthology, notable philosophers engage directly with that work and assess Wallace's reply to Taylor as well as other aspects of Wallace's thought.

With an introduction by Steven M. Cahn and Maureen Eckert, this collection includes essays by William Hasker (Huntington University), Gila Sher (University of California, San Diego), Marcello Oreste Fiocco (University of California, Irvine), Daniel R. Kelly (Purdue University), Nathan Ballantyne (Fordham University), Justin Tosi (University of Arizona), and Maureen Eckert. These thinkers explore Wallace's philosophical and literary work, illustrating remarkable ways in which his philosophical views influenced and were influenced by themes developed in his other writings, both fictional and nonfictional. Together with Fate, Time, and Language, this critical set unlocks key components of Wallace's work and its traces in modern literature and thought.
The Unspeakable Failures of David Foster Wallace: Language, Identity and Resistance
This book examines the writing of David Foster Wallace, hailed as the voice of a generation on his death. Critics have identified horror of solipsism, obsession with sincerity and a corresponding ambivalence regarding postmodern irony, and detailed attention to contemporary culture as the central elements of Wallace's writing. Clare Hayes-Brady draws on the evolving discourses of Wallace Studies, focusing on the unifying anti-teleology of his writing, arguing that that position is a fundamentally political response to the condition of neo-liberal America.

She argues that Wallace's work is most unified by its resistance to closure, which pervades the structural, narrative and stylistic elements of his writing. Taking a broadly thematic approach to the numerous types of "failure", or lack of completion, visible throughout his work, the book offers a framework within which to read Wallace's work as a coherent whole, rather than split along the lines of fiction versus non-fiction, or pre- and post-Infinite Jest, two critical positions that have become dominant over the last five years. While demonstrating the centrality of "failure", the book also explores Wallace's approach to sincere communication as a recurring response to what he saw as the inane, self-absorbed commodification of language and society, along with less explored themes such as gender, naming and heroism.

Situating Wallace as both a product of his time and an artist sui generis, Hayes-Brady details his abiding interest in philosophy, language and the struggle for an authentic self in late-twentieth-century America.

This title will be released on February 25, 2016.
The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace: Boredom and Addiction in an Age of Distraction
The Gospel According to David Foster Wallace is the first book to explore of key religious themes - from boredom to addiction, and distraction - in the work of one of America's most celebrated contemporary novelists.

In a series of short, topic-focussed chapters, the book joins a supercut of key scenes from Wallace's novels Infinite Jest and The Pale King with clear explanations of how they contribute to his overall account of what it means to be a human being in the 21st century. Adam Miller explores how Wallace's work masterfully investigates the nature of first-world boredom and shows, in the process, how easy it is to get addicted to distraction (chemical, electronic, or otherwise). Implicitly critiquing, excising, and repurposing elements of AA's Twelve Step program, Wallace suggests that the practice of prayer (regardless of belief in God), the patient application of attention to things that seem ordinary and boring, and the internalization of clich├ęs may be the antidote to much of what ails us in the 21st century.

This title will be released on February 25, 2016.

Sunday, May 03, 2015

Death Merchant #46: Blood Bath

It would be wrong to call the first half of Blood Bath a pro-apartheid tract, but it is tempting.

First, as he did in Operation Thunderbolt (DM #31), author Joseph Rosenberger provides an explanatory note about the language he will be using:
"In this book there will be certain words and phrases, terms and racial vulgarisms, that are in current usage among white groups in the Republic of South Africa. These words and terms are not meant as racial insults to any group. We use them only for the effects of realism."
Then, the quotation at the beginning of the book is from none other than the Death Merchant himself, Richard J. Camellion of Votaw, Texas:
"The fight of the South Africans against Communist-motivated terrorists such as the Southwest Africa People's Organization [SWAPO] can be compared to the struggle of the Israelis to keep their homeland from being flooded by a tidal wave of Arabs."
This sentiment is 180 degrees from past comments made by Rosenberger's main character. Not that long ago, Camellion was mercilessly ripping the Israelis for their racist and violent policies towards the Palestinians. But now, Israel is the suffering underdog.

In Blood Bath, the Death Merchant is brought in to assist South Africa's Bureau of State Security ("BOSS") in assassinating Samuel Nujomo of SWAPO and KGB Colonel Josef Markevski, both of whom are fighting for equality in South Africa and an end to apartheid.

Although the book's boilerplate states, "All the characters ... portrayed in this book are fictional, and any resemblance to real people ... is purely coincidental", Nujomo is clearly meant to be Samuel Nujoma, a Namibian anti-apartheid activist. (In fact, the text on the back of the book gives the character's name as "Sam Nujoma"!) Likewise, another character is South African Prime Minister Bitha (a stand-in for the actual PM from 1978-84, P.W. Botha).

Since Camellion is working closely with white nationalists, the reader gets a steady diet of pro-apartheid and anti-black rhetoric, including a 7½-page (!) conversation early in the book. A small sampling of the discussion:
Pieter derMeer (BOSS): "Blacks are cheeky in any country; it's their nature. But I guess you Americans think we Afrikaners behave like SS men toward our natives?"

Frank Stockwell (CIA): "Not at all - at least I don't. Our American blacks have chased us out of our cities. Of course, the real fault lies with the do-gooders and other dreamers in our government. It's their preposterous theories that have resulted in bussing and integration. ... Whites are ever discriminated against in jobs. You see, our damn fool lawmakers are 'minority happy.'"

Earl Moorland (BOSS): "You can't mix the races and have any kind of culture, any kind of values."

derMeer: "In South Africa, we have more common sense. ... That is why we have apartheid."

Moorland: "Some races are prone to extreme violence. The black race heads the list. The Mexicans invading your [US] southern borders are another example."

derMeer: "On a weekend there are maybe a hundred thousand drunken blacks in Soweto. ... And you'd have us make those savages our equals! ... Do you know what would happen to us if we made them our equals? Hundreds of years of civilization would collapse overnight."

derMeer: "Another thing you don't know - most foreigners don't - is that we whites didn't create the black states. Neither did our ancestors. The black states were determined by the settlement patterns and migratory movements of the black races in past centuries, more or less in the same way the location of countries in Europe was determined."

Moorland: "The worst charge against us is that we are fostering institutionalized segregation. The foreign media have twisted the real meaning of apartheid beyond recognition. ... The foreign press insists on confusing apartheid with discrimination , and the more we try to explain it, the more we're accused of modern slavery."

Nick Vister (BOSS): "It's the implementation of apartheid that actually permits us to safeguard the national identity of the various black people within our borders."

Camellion: "I really couldn't care less what you South Africans do in your own country, or for that matter on the continent of Africa. Neither does the average American. It's the liberals of the world you have to worry about. Their approach to most problems, especially to the problem of crime, is the infantile assumption that the identifying of a problem can immediately be solved by a solution, usually through government action. They have had the solution to the 'South Africa Problem' for years. All you do is make everyone equal ... Naturally your society would fall apart."
After Camellion's comment: "The three BOSS agents smiles. Here was a man who was a realist."

During the discussion, CIA agent Robert Duigen offers a different view: "Sure, the blacks over here are explosive, but in a sense you can't blame them." And he mentions a section of the Bantu Urban Areas Consolidation Act, requiring blacks to carry passbooks, proving they had a right to be wherever they were. But it's merely a blip during the long, one-sided conversation. (Late in the book, Duigen shows his racist side, referring to Cubans as "chili peppers" and bemoaning the hordes of immigrant "trash" allowed into the United States.)

It is not until halfway through the book that Camellion offers somewhat of a rebuttal to the steady flow of pro-apartheid comments - but his comment is immediately dismissed.
One has to analyze the situation from the standpoint of the colored people. As far as they're concerned, they're still second-rate citizens. Right after I arrived in South Africa, I recall a mulatto telling me, "They bring in these goddamned Italians and Greeks here who can't begin to speak any of the languages of the country and treat them equal, like white men. I speak English, Afrikaans and a little Xhosa and have lived here all my life, yet I can't even ride on the same bus with those bastards. Don't give me any propaganda bullshit about apartheid preserving a culture or nationalism!"
Arnaud van Wyk replies: "Whoever told you that is a good-for-nothing liar. Most of those half-breeds are nothing but a bunch of drunks. ... We whites must preserve our identity and culture."

Throughout the book, the anti-black asides pile up: Blacks are "existing in one long night of ignorance" despite Afrikaners' "attempts to educate them". ... "Whoever heard of a bunch of dumb niggers being able to rule themselves intelligently?" ... "Sadists, savages and murders who would turn this nation into a Marxist hell."

At one point, derMeer states: "There's every indication that your President Reagan and his administration are on our side." (But we still get Camellion thinking about Jimmy Carter's "Girl Scout leadership" during the Iranian hostages situation. "The Iranian camel lovers released the hostages because they wanted to get rid of them. They were frightened stiff of our new President." The Death Merchant then thinks how he'd like to use nerve gas on the entire country of Iran and slit the throat of every Iranian living in the United States.)

It is clear that Camellion has been hired to execute Nujomo because Nujomo has become too popular and is seen as a threat to the pro-apartheid rulers. Nujomo is planning a nationwide revolution and must be stopped before he broadcasts the day and time of the revolt via radio. The end of apartheid would be "a severe [economic] setback for the west, especially the United States" as there are vital minerals that can be obtained only from South Africa. Camellion thinks: "I'll be damned if I'll see Namibia fall into the hands of black commie savages controlled by these damned pig-farmers in the Soviet Union."

Etc.:

"To the Death Merchant the Reverend Verkramptes and his wife were the same kind of simpletons who had been well on the way toward wrecking the United States before the 1980 presidential election. In the US it was halfwits like the Verkramptes who would deify a murdered rock star [John Lennon, presumably], all the while forgetting that he was nothing more than a non-talent Pied Piper who helped lead millions of teen-agers down the wide road of drugs, rebellion and purposelessness. The same kind of liberal morons would hand the republic of South Africa, the most stable and advanced nation in all of Africa, over to millions of ignorant, bloodthirsty savages."

"Getting the Verkramples to tell all they knew was easier than making a wino accept a fifth of 'Sweet Lucy'".

"We should put him up in a suite at the Hotel Stupid!"

"Vaguely wondering why lovers close their eyes when they kiss - the psychological explanation is self-annulling - Camellion fired both Backpacker Auto Mags."

Two Camellion quips, before wasting someone: "You silly slob. You couldn't steal a banana from a drunken monkey!" & "You couldn't outdraw a crayon, you poor halfwit!"

Saturday, May 02, 2015

On Urban Riots

Urban riots must now be recognized as durable social phenomena. They may be deplored, but they are there and should be understood. Urban riots are a special form of violence. They are not insurrections. The rioters are not seeking to seize territory or to attain control of institutions. They are mainly intended to shock the white community. They are a distorted form of social protest. The looting which is their principal feature serves many functions. It enables the most enraged and deprived Negro to take hold of consumer goods with the ease the white man does by using his purse. Often the Negro does not even want what he takes; he wants the experience of taking. But most of all, alienated from society and knowing that this society cherishes property above people, he is shocking it by abusing property rights. There are thus elements of emotional catharsis in the violent act. This may explain why most cities in which riots have occurred have not had a repetition, even though the causative conditions remain. It is also noteworthy that the amount of physical harm done to white people other than police is infinitesimal and in Detroit whites and Negroes looted in unity.

A profound judgment of today's riots was expressed by Victor Hugo a century ago. He said, 'If a soul is left in the darkness, sins will be committed. The guilty one is not he who commits the sin, but he who causes the darkness.'

The policymakers of the white society have caused the darkness; they create discrimination; they structured slums; and they perpetuate unemployment, ignorance and poverty. It is incontestable and deplorable that Negroes have committed crimes; but they are derivative crimes. They are born of the greater crimes of the white society. When we ask Negroes to abide by the law, let us also demand that the white man abide by law in the ghettos. Day-in and day-out he violates welfare laws to deprive the poor of their meager allotments; he flagrantly violates building codes and regulations; his police make a mockery of law; and he violates laws on equal employment and education and the provisions for civic services. The slums are the handiwork of a vicious system of the white society; Negroes live in them but do not make them any more than a prisoner makes a prison. Let us say boldly that if the violations of law by the white man in the slums over the years were calculated and compared with the law-breaking of a few days of riots, the hardened criminal would be the white man. These are often difficult things to say but I have come to see more and more that it is necessary to utter the truth in order to deal with the great problems that we face in our society.
Martin Luther King, Jr., September 1967


Friday, May 01, 2015

40 Years Ago: Stones Play "Brown Sugar" On A Flat-Bed Truck On Fifth Avenue

Forty years ago - May 1, 1975 - the Rolling Stones played "Brown Sugar" while on a flat-bed truck driving down Fifth Avenue in New York City. News of the band's "Tour of the Americas" was announced later that day.



Brown Sugar (with radio DJs)


News report


More footage

Friday, April 24, 2015

Death Merchant #45: The Rim Of Fire Conspiracy

In The Rim Of Fire Conspiracy, Joseph Rosenberger reworks the plot of The Bermuda Triangle Action (DM #37), in which the Russians attempt to plant hydrogen bombs in the fault lines off the Atlantic coast, hoping to cause unimagined destruction to the southern and eastern United States.

This time, the "pig farmers" are drilling deep into the various fault lines off the west coast. Indeed, the U.S. determines that the May 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens was likely caused by the testing of a Russian nuclear device buried nine miles deep in the Earth, along the Pacific Plate. Future (and more powerful) explosions could trigger hundreds of now-dormant volcanoes along the Cascade Range, a stretch of 700 miles from British Columbia to northern California (referred to here as the Rim of Fire).

When Rosenberger switches to the Russian POV, we learn how the Soviets are digging the holes (with a laser) and planting the devices.

At the CIA's main station in Los Angeles, Richard Camellion is in a meeting during which a lot of information about Plate Tectonics Theory, volcanoes, and earthquakes is being discussed. Camellion asks several questions, specifically, what if multiple hydrogen bombs were buried deep in fracture zones and detonated (i.e., exactly what it turns out the Russians are planning to do)?

Through an unbelievable coincidence, the U.S. discovers a KGB agent in an Anchorage, Alaska, drug store. It turns out there is a KGB cell in the town, possibly monitoring the seismic waves from the various Soviet bomb tests. Camellion and a team of commandos head to Anchorage and invade a hotel run by Harry and Sally Bella, who are hiding the Russians (disguised as a group of British businessmen looking to buy some land).

After the raid on the hotel, someone notes that Sally Bella was injured. (This is a good example of how Rosenberger's personal opinions (I assume) get inserted into the narrative.)
"What about the woman?"

"Oh, she's all right. She has a swollen jaw, but it's not broken. She's mumbling about 'suing' us for 'invasion of privacy'! Have you ever heard anything more silly and ridiculous?"

"Yes, I have," Camellion snickered. "Like, Lee Harvey Oswald shot John F. Kennedy or that 'Deep Throat' in Watergate was a 'patriotic citizen' only doing his duty for 'the nation,'" He became serious. "We'll have a doctor check them at Elmandorf [Air Force Base] before we take off for California."
On the next page, the Death Merchant reveals that Deep Throat "was actually a KGB mole, a money-loving son-of-a-bitch that the Company managed to turn around".

After the Alaskan hotel raid, Camellion is on a nuclear sub, the Albatross. Questioning the captured Russians gives the U.S. information about two Soviet bases, one in Roca Oneal, in the Revillagigedo islands, and another in San Cristobal, one of the Galapagos islands. The Roca Oneal base is attacked and destroyed by a separate military group, so it's up to Camellion and 150 others to storm the San Cristobal island base and destroy it.

Three days after that mission, they are on another sub on their way to invade the top submarine in the Russian fleet, the Aleksandr Pushkin. After five helicopters riddle the sub with shells, the Death Merchant and the other men rappel down onto the sub and blast their way in. (I'm not sure why the Russian sub did not simply dive down into the ocean when it heard the copters approaching rather than stay on the surface and get shelled. Or perhaps wait until the men were on top of the sub, and then submerge.) A huge storm is on its way so the DM and his force have to make their way down four levels to the laser room in the very bottom of the vessel, destroy the laser, and get back up to the hovering copters before the weather gets too rough.

There is fierce fighting on the sub, of course, with both sides finally coming "eyeball to eyeball" in the close quarters. "What made the difference was attitude. The United States is a nation of freedom. In contrast, the Soviet Union is a nation of sheep."

In the early volumes of the series - written in the mid-70s - Rosenberger had Camellion make numerous insults about Richard Nixon. Now, in 1981, Nixon's criminal activities are apparently a-okay with the Death Merchant. Working under the name Alex Preston, Camellion is given papers listing his address as 143 East 65th Street in Manhattan. He muses to himself: "Only a block from where Richard Nixon lives. I'm in good company. Nixon didn't do anything that other Presidents didn't do. He just got caught at it."

As usual, it's the Carter administration that the Death Merchant cannot stand: "peanut minds from Foggy Bottom" led by a "Bible-quoting idiot", and "jackass fools who don't even know we already have another Pearl Harbor in the Caribbean". (I don't know to what event(s) this refers.) There is a reference in the next DM book to ex-President Carter, so we'll soon see how Rosenberger feels about Ronald Reagan.

We are told that Camellion is a necessary force in an evil world. "The man was a machine ... But the way to the Holy Grail of Freedom was filled with such men ... men fighting to keep the United States free of communist domination." ... One Navy man on the sub admits his dislike of CIA agents like 'Preston'. "But I suppose we need such people to keep the nation safe."

We also learn that Camellion hates CIA Executive Officer Fred DeRose because "he had heard DeRose mention to another officer that he enjoyed going to Tijuana to watch dog fights. To Camellion's way of thinking, any man (or woman) who enjoyed watching pitbulls tear at each other with their fangs was a no-good ten times over, on level with lice who beat children or battered their wives." ... The Death Merchant is also suspicious of DeRose's personality because he has long fingers; however, no further explanation is given.

Camellion actually comments at one point: "I dislike violence of any kind ..." (!!!) It doesn't appear to be a joke. Obviously, it's more than a little strange to have this coming from Camellion, who has killed thousands of people and has no compunction about killing innocent people if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and need to be "removed" so he can complete his mission without messy complications.

Even more amusing is that after someone refers to some "spic commies", Camellion considers letting the bigoted description slide by, chalking it up to "the worldwide disease of racism", but he decides he must confront the speaker, because "racism was the hallmark of a fool". However, Camellion is interrupted before he can speak out. (Of course, in every other book, Camellion himself uses similarly racist terms.)

Etc.:

"At the same time, [Harry Della] attempted to pull a .38 Charter Arms revolver from his right rear pocket. He might as well have eaten a pound of navy beans and have attempted to fart his way across the Pacific."

"As far as the CIA agent was concerned, it was Graham Cracker Day and Mogatovski was the big crumb."

"'Well, it won't be long now, as the man said when he caught his pecker in a buzz saw ...'"

"[Camellion's] left leg shot out and he employed a Kogan Geri top of the foot slam that landed directly where he wanted it to land - between Sergei Piriev's legs, the instep wrecking the Russian's sexual apparatus, crushing his testicles the way a power press would squeeze together two oranges."

"Surprisingly, Colonel Havilland sounded as calm as a sleeping oyster."

"Crap and cream puffs." (This faux obscenity is actually uttered three times!)

Monday, April 20, 2015

Death Merchant #44: Island Of The Damned

The premise of Island of the Damned makes absolutely no sense.

Yuri Mkrtchyan, a Russian doctor studying DNA, has an hypothesis that the genes in every human being "carr[y] the memories of the hundreds and hundreds of millions who had lived and were now dead".

He is working on a Bio-Memory Scanner, a machine that would be able to unlock this massive amount of information supposedly stored in a person's DNA, giving a person access to the emotions, thoughts and memories of the countless philosophers, musicians, writers, statesmen, and ordinary people that have ever lived. However, in the few tests the Russians have performed, the data overload has simply driven people insane.

Now, how can the emotions and memories of someone on the other side of the world can be encoded into my DNA? This possibility is explained a bit more at the end of the book, once the Death Merchant has destroyed the Russian lab.
According to some theoreticians, the activity of thought extended beyond the physical body and partook of a "field of mind" surrounding the planet and extending into space for . . . how far? This mind field was composed of the collective experience of the human race: our thoughts, our feelings, our actions.

"All these trillions of thoughts exist in one vast thought field," Camellion said, "the equivalent of what Carl Jung called an archetype experience. The totality of this thought field, or archetype, constitutes an 'atmosphere' of thought energy coextensive with the earth's physical atmosphere and beyond."
Whatever. It's ridiculous any way you slice it. (And the fact that I'm criticizing a Death Merchant book because it's not believable is equally ridiculous!)

But, anyway, the Russians are working on the Bio-Memory Scanner in a secret laboratory in a mountain cave on a privately-owned Hawaiian island called Tukoatu. The island is owned by a Japanese billionaire and the Russians are blackmailing him into being allowed to do their scientific work on his island. Why the Russians have invested so much time and money constructing this lab on American soil is somewhat unclear.

The Americans have detected "faint wave ducts" from "wave-form amplitude distortion" and believe that the Soviets have set up a base somewhere and are trying to monitor U.S. satellites. (The U.S. rules out the Chinese as possible perps because they don't have the necessary technology). The U.S. has been searching for this mysterious base for three months. In a secret meeting, Camellion throws out the suggestion that the base might be a mountaintop "on some privately owned island". What a guess!!!

Earlier, Camellion was ambushed after meeting with a contact in Honolulu and one of the gunmen was allegedly a strong arm for the Renton mob. The Death Merchant decides to storm Archie "The Owl" Renton's beachfront property, kidnap him and question him for possible info. Renton offers very little, but then, almost as an afterthought, he says, "something's not right on the island of Tukoatu". The owner of the island recently fired four employees and even though one of them had stolen $75,000 in artifacts from the house, Nagai never reported the theft. Camellion wonders if the two events are connected. (Of course, they are.)

After six TE-15 Eagles fire two dozen air-to-surface missiles at the underwater cave that serves as one entrance to the secret Russian lab and then demolish the house ("a downpour of steel death"), the Death Merchant's team drop in to the island house via copter - and after an epic shootout, emerge victorious.

Rosenberger's description of the Bio-Memory Scanner is pretty lame: "a large contraption that resembled something from a Grade B science-fiction movie. ... There were enormous coils and circuit breakers, and a long control panel filled with dials, knobs, switches, and rows of multicolored lights."

DM Factoids: Camellion has light-sensitive eyes and is "by temperament and biorhythmically a night person". He has a 36-inch waist. He eats fried SPAM. He is described as "a fatalist who was neither in awe of God nor afraid of the Devil, a dispassionate pragmatist who could realize that there were situations which only a Final Solution could solve."

We also get a description of our hero: "a lean, tough-muscled man with a firm jaw, off-blue eyes, and a brown crewcut. Looking at him, the two [FBI] agents were reminded of George Peppard, the motion picture actor". (At the time of the book's publication (April 1981), Peppard had yet to star in the TV series, The A-Team. That show began in 1983.)

Camnellion also remains prone to breaking off into political or social thoughts at any time. At one point, he outlines the many germ warfare programs being conducted by various nations:
And fools worry about nuclear warfare!

There were problems. Already certain concerned people in the United States were stirring up a stink about the U.S. Government's germ warfare and nerve gas program.

It's unfortunate. Peace-loving men and idealists have always been naive fools who will never learn that peace can only come through strength of the military. . . . And wait and see the result when the public learns that UFOs are top secret U.S. military craft, begun by the Nazis and perfected after the war by German and American scientists. Or if the American public ever learns that cattle mutilations are the result of nerve gas experiments. But so far the public have been fools. The Company's "disinformation" people have seen to that. Damned clever, too. By cutting out the tongues and sex organs of the cattle, the technicians have made the public believe that the mutilations are the work of cults, devil worshippers and other kooks . . .
One of Camellion's aliases in this book is "Albert Cosgrove" although at one point, he is referred to as "Osgood". There were more than the usual amount of typos in this book, including one that had the Russians drinking "yodka".

Etc.:

"Bazzziittttttt. Three 9mm round-nosed slugs zipped through Sherill's left clavicle, shot perpendicularly through his left lung, tore through the end of his liver and the upper portion of his stomach, bored through a section of the taenia coli and came to a bloody, skidding halt in the satorius muscle of his left leg."

"An amateur would have died without knowing how he had been killed, but Camellion could spot approaching death when he was asleep!"

"Such an installation would stand out like a twelve-inch erection on a midget!"

"Grinning from ear to ear, Krestell was as excited as a ghetto child getting off the bus at summer camp. 'Hot diddle damn!'"

"This is one mell of a hess!"

"What was really needed inside the building was automatic shotguns. But no! None were available in Honolulu. Washington was on another "let's-all-save-money" binge as the dear, dumb liberals (who would soon be dear, dumb, and dead liberals) pretended that a world of mega-death didn't exist."

"... one ivan had such a long nose that his mother must have been an anteater!"

"One explosion tore mutter-mouth's head from his shoulders and sent it rolling west like a bloody bowling ball."

"A bedbug in a test tube couldn't get out of that cave."

As Grojean and Camellion talk in the epilogue, the CIA chief shows the Death Merchant an 8x10 photograph and asks, "Do you know him?" Camellion says, "Sure, he's that ding-a-ling the press calls The Penetrator. I hear he's very intelligent and has a lot of savvy." Then they change the subject. (The Penetrator was an action-adventure series written by Mark Roberts and Chet Cunningham under the name Lionel Derrick.)

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Stephen King: The Colorado Kid (2005)

This short novel (163 pages) is a paperback original from Hard Case Crime, a small publisher specializing in both old and new hardboiled crime novels.

From the original press release:
"Steve is an extraordinary writer, and as much a fan of classic paperback crime fiction as we are," said Charles Ardai, Hard Case Crime's editor. "We originally contacted him to see if he'd be willing to write a blurb for our line, and he decided that what he really wanted to do was write a book for us instead. We're thrilled that he wanted to be part of Hard Case Crime and we're very excited to get to introduce the world to the baffling mystery of The Colorado Kid."

"This is an exciting line of books," Stephen King commented, "and I'm delighted to be a part of it. Hard Case Crime presents good, clean, bare-knuckled storytelling, and even though The Colorado Kid is probably more bleu than outright noir, I think it has some of those old-fashioned kick-ass story-telling virtues. It ought to; this is where I started out, and I'm pleased to be back."
The Colorado Kid is hyped on the back cover as an "investigation into the unknown", a story "about the darkness at the heart of the unknown and our compulsion to investigate the unexplained", a tale "whose subject is nothing less than the nature of mystery itself". That's giving this thin story far more credit than it deserves.

Oldtimers Dave Bowie and Vince Teague run the small newspaper serving the seaside community of Moose-Lookit, Maine. Stephanie, who is from Ohio, is an intern they have hired for the summer. As the book begins, a writer for the Boston Globe has asked around for any information for a series of articles on "unexplained events" in New England, but he has left empty-handed. Stephanie, knowing the two men have been in the news business for decades, says they must have heard of something strange and "unexplained" over the years.

Instead of a straight story, we hear about the tale of the Colorado Kid as remembered by the two men, who stop periodically so they and Stephanie can talk about various aspects of the tale. Dave and Vince insist that there really is no "story", nothing with a well-defined beginning, middle, and end. That's what newspapers want and that's why this tale is no good for the Globe.

One morning in 1980, a pair of teenagers discover an unidentified dead man on the beach. It is later determined that he choked to death on a piece of food. He is not identified and nothing much happens until about 16 months later, when a young man who had been working with the two detectives assigned to the case, has a flashback to the tax stamp on the bottom of the unknown man's pack of cigarettes. It turns out the stamp says "Colorado".

Dave and Vince mail a copy of the man's picture, taken shortly after he was discovered on the beach, to 78 newspapers in Colorado. In short order, they hear from a woman named Arla Cogen, who turns out to be the man's wife/widow. She gives the two newspapermen details about James Cogan's life (including the fact that he was never a smoker). Her information raises several questions: How did Cogan get from Denver to a small coastal Maine town in only a few hours on the day he died? And why? And what's up with the pack of cigarettes?

Dave, Vince, and Stephanie run through several possibilities, teasing each one out, trying to construct a probable narrative. But the truth cannot be known in this case - and guesswork is as far as they get. And this is also as far as King gets. The book ends with the Kid's appearance and death just as shrouded in mystery as before.

In an afterword, King acknowledges that readers will either love or hate the story. "Mystery is my subject here," he writes. "I'm really not interested in the solution but the mystery." King can count me among those who did not like the story - or thought that there wasn't enough of a story to like or not like. When King was producing his best work, he likely would have realized TCK was going nowhere and simply filed it away. Or, if he was intent on exploring the essence of mystery, he would have come up with a more engaging premise. We are told several times how excited and intrigued Stephanie is by this mystery, but we never get that feeling ourselves.

Also, King's use of Maine slang/dialect gets in the way of the story's flow. The two newspaper men repeatedly say "Ayuh" and "Gorry!", drop the "g"s from the end of words, and often remind themselves (and us) that Stephanie is "from away" (i.e., not a local). King did a masterful job capturing an authentic Maine voice in Dolores Claibourne, but he strikes out here. King even interrupts the storytelling to explain that "fair" is pronounced fay-yuh, "bury" rhymes with furry, and dinnah is the meal you eat around noon time.

Next: Cell.