Thursday, May 22, 2008

Forgotten Book Friday

Forgotten Books Friday is a great idea and I want to start by thanking Patti Abbott for asking me to be a part of it. As soon as she did, I thought of one of my favourite novels that’s not exactly forgotten but certainly not as well known as it should be. Newton Thornburg’s Cutter and Bone from 1976.

I have a friend who’s an excellent cartoonist – so good, in fact, that his biggest fans are other cartoonists. That’s kind of Cutter and Bone – Time Magazine said at the time it was published that it pointed, “to the future of crime fiction.” If it has, it’s because it’s influenced a lot of crime fiction writers – like George Pelecanos who wrote the introduction for the book’s later reissue. Not exactly forgotten, Cutter and Bone certainly isn’t as recognized as it should be.

The story of Cutter, a one-armed, one-legged, one-eyed Vietnam vet and, Bone, his good-looking gigolo buddy starts in California and ends in Missouri, is simple; late one night Bone sees a man cram something into a garbage can. When that something turns out to be a dead teen-aged girl, Cutter realizes the man Bone saw ‘could be’ J.J. Wolfe a “cornpone millionaire” from Missouri and justice must be done. But not through messy legal avenues, no, that never works on millionaires. Cutter wants to blackmail the man.

The biggest influence on the crime genre was taking the mystery out of it and concentrating almost entirely on character and theme. Certainly throughout Cutter and Bone, the issue of Wolfe’s guilt is in dispute, it also quickly becomes beside the point. Solving the ‘mystery’ isn’t what the book is about at all. Thornburg has admitted that his pessimistic view of the world caused him to reject the crime genre, with its detectives and its neat resolutions.

Instead he wrote a book George Pelecanos says is about, "America's festering wound in the wake of Vietnam," with no neat resolution.

It’s a festering wound seen through the eyes of a very wounded Cutter and a very disaffected Bone. Wolfe represents the corporate culture that destroyed Cutter's body in a brutal war: "it's never their ass they lay on the line, man, never theirs, but ours, mine."

In many ways it’s exactly the same way many people feel today in the face of another foreign war. In Cutter and Bone, Wolfe’s men in Missouri are described as, “lean and sunburnt and improbably pleased with themselves.” They’re never going to be the victims of the war, never going to lay their own asses on the line.

As relevant today as it was in 1976.

The movie, Cutter’s Way, based on the book is okay. Thornburg hated it, and certainly he’s right the ending is much better in the book.

Here’s a good article about Newton Thornburg

And the review from Time Magazine in 1976 (isn’t the internet great?).

Monday, May 12, 2008

a noir love song to Toronto

A couple more reviews are in for Everybody Knows This Is Nowhere.
Kirkus Reviews, in its May 5th edition ran a starred review:

It’s refreshingly hard to tell the good from the no-good in this helping of cops and robbers, Canadian style.

Sharon MacDonald, smart, attractive, a loving mother, wears one of those metallic adornments around her ankle. She’s under house arrest for hospitalizing some wise guy who got out of line. As the operator of an established Toronto “grow room,” Sharon plants and harvests marijuana for profit. Enter Ray, good-looking, immensely appealing to Sharon, with an unnerving proposition likely to make drug kingpin Richard Tremblay unhappy. An unhappy Tremblay means a trembling Sharon, a state familiar to her ever since she knew the ice-eyed kingpin when he was only a scary student prince. On the other hand, Ray’s scheme has almost irresistible payoff potential if Sharon can trust her new partner long enough to double-cross him safely. Newly paired Toronto police detectives Bergeron and Armstrong have trust issues of their own. Neither is sure the other is the solid cop to be hoped for in a partner. Throughout the exposition, persistent, worrisome rumblings indicate that it’s shake-up time in Toronto, and everybody knows that on both sides of the law enforcement divide big players are going down.

Bristling action, a vivid sense of place and nary a plot twist telegraphed. Exceptional work from McFetridge (Dirty Sweet, 2006).

Publisher’s Weekly was less enthusiastic, but still, I’m thrilled to get a review in PW:

Canadian author McFetridge’s complex crime caper, whose title comes from Toronto-born Neil Young’s first album with Crazy Horse, follows Toronto police detectives Bergeron and Armstrong as they pursue a variety of cases, starting with the body that falls off a high building and strikes the car windshield of a john just about to enjoy a hooker’s services. Meanwhile, Sharon MacDonald is under electronic house arrest, working angles on expanding her dope business, when she meets a guy named Ray with plans to smuggle literal shiploads of marijuana. A clear disciple of Elmore Leonard, McFetridge (Dirty Sweet) has almost every character talk and think like Chili Palmer (“That was one thing J.T. learned in Afghanistan - the enemy’s only half your problem, if that”), not a bad thing for a fun read. On the down side, too many subplots start and abruptly end as this noir love song to Toronto plays out. (July)

The July listing is for the US edition. Everbody Knows This Is Nowhere and the paperback edition of Dirty Sweet are in Canadian stores now.

Friday, May 09, 2008


So, I joined a site called GoodReads. Don't know much about it yet, but it's all about books, so that's good.