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Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Books You Can Read With Callouses on Your Hands

I have to say, when I surreptitiously came upon this video of Mike Rowe talking about John D. Macdonald I was quite impressed.
He ticks off the titles with such ease that you can tell he's actually read them.  And in order to read John D. Macdonald, who died in the early 80s, you have to a) be a habitual reader, b) be comfortable cracking an old paperback, c) appreciate good literary writing while also appreciating all the action, bravado, and fantasy in a genre story.

It got me thinking about how the publishing industry is underserving an important demographic:  Men.  Not just the bookish academic sort, obsessing over culture and writing Oprah-approved novels for women.

But the guys with dirt under their fingernails.  The guys who make fart jokes and drink beer and ride motorcycles and gut fish.  These guys don't want to read Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace.  Well, some of them do.

And while literature is full of men writing manly stuff --Jack London, Kipling, Melville-- and some of it is semi-recent --the Chandlers, L'Amours, and Macdonalds-- what we're missing today is new literature for men.

It's just not minted in the way it once was.

Which brings me to Nic Pizzolatto's novel Galveston.   It was an Edgar award finalist, but Pizzolatto is better known as the creator of the show True Detective.  That show got a lot of heat for being, ahem, too male-dominated, but now that I think about it, it has a very Macdonald-esque feel.

I'm only about 50 pages into Galveston, so can't critique much, but this could be a contender.  At times, the writing style seems to be a bit above the first person narrator's educational capabilities, which was also true of Macdonald's Travis McGee, but it has a muscular, propulsive force behind it.

One particularly bloody passage stayed with me long after I read it:

The man beside me slapped the side of my head, the he shoved me forward and I acted like I stumbled, fell to one knee.

When he tugged me to my feet I flicked my wrist and whipped the stiletto into his neck.  Blood geysered hot over my face and mouth.

I left the blade in and fell behind him as the other two raised guns.  One shot at me and smacked plaster off a wall as the other fired at Angelo and the top of his pompadour flew off and he fell to his knees.  They both fired at me.  The shots went thwap like pneumatic bolts and all struck the third man.  He spasmed at the bullets, the blade still in his neck.

My gun was right in front of me, stuck in the man's waistband.  I pulled it out and raised it and fired through the blood fountain at the closest one.

I didn't have time to actually aim, and I was half-blind with arterial spray, but I hit him in the throat and he twitched and fired and dropped backward.
It's like Hemingway and Cormac McCarthy had a baby and the kid didn't have any of their annoying ticks.  "Blood geysered."  I don't know, man.  Maybe you have to be a writer to appreciate how perfect that is.

Two words!  Only two words used to create that image.

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