Tuesday, August 04, 2009

The Way Home by George Pelecanos

I’m skeptical whenever a critic claims a genre writer “gets better with every book.” Most writers I’ve followed (including, perhaps especially, the high-falutin’ types) work steadily until they find their groove. Once established, they return to the groove and work it until it becomes a rut. George Pelecanos came on the crime fiction scene just over 15 years ago, and immediately proved himself as someone worth reading. And, dammit, he gets better with every book. He definitely has his groove, but it is gaining depth and breadth.

Some of the pleasures I take from Pelecanos’ books:

1) It’s A Working Man’s World. Pelecanos’ perspective isn’t just resolutely masculine, it’s resolutely blue-collar — involving guys who have learned how to do a job they can take pride in, whether it’s run a diner, work a chop-shop or install flooring. Even when he introduces a minor character, he takes pains to accurately portray the work they do. This approach is something of a revelation, and certainly a welcome change from the artists, free-spirits and flakes who populate other books.

2) Attribution. GP has cited movies as his chief source of narrative inspiration, but his books are filled with other tip-offs. The early books were often written with an accompanying soundtrack (one novel even came with a CD). Characters carry paperback copies of books with them, standing in as the author’s list of recommended reading, which is worth following up. Pelecanos hopes to join a particular company of authors who, in turn, have provided company and encouragement for a very particular audience (see above).

3) Literary Self-Improvement. GP’s template gets wider with every book. In The Way Home (A) Pelecanos spends the first 100 pages getting into the head of a self-destructive, self-centered late-adolescent punk who, through circumstance, very slowly begins to get a clue — tiresome reading in the hands of a lesser, more self-infatuated novelist, but I couldn’t put it down. Mortal peril is eventually thrown into the mix (something else I always appreciate about GP’s books) but the larger question is will this kid make it to the end of the book and become a man?

This is one of those books I immediately donate to the public library, so that readers in my town get the chance to discover it for themselves.


Cowtown Pattie said...

Perhaps I should give GP another go. I tried once a while back, but I can't even remember the title. I just couldn't get "into it" for whatever reason.

Occasionally happens with other books. I may give Pelecanos another try - perhaps my head was in a different place that week, or maybe I had preconceived anticipations.

Cowtown Pattie said...

Charles Portis is another writer whom I have had trouble sticking with...bought two of his books, but can't say I've read more than half of the first: Dog of the South

Whisky Prajer said...

As I was putting together "a list of my favorite things" about Pelecanos, I began to see aspects that others might not take to. The more I thought about it, the more I wondered if his appeal wasn't almost exclusively hetero male. Judging from his interviews, were he to be confronted with this possibility I expect his response would be a shrug and a, "Yeah, so?"

He seems to like Portis, so maybe there's a connection of some kind. Anyhow, life's too short to be puzzlin' over the book tastes of some people -- including me!

Trent Reimer said...

Good write up - you've peaked my interest. Going to make a trip to the library in the hopes this town has someone like you in it.

DarkoV said...

Re. Trent's comment: What better indication of love and admiration from a swarthy brother can a guy get?!?

Attention Readers! Bro-Love ahead.

Unless, of course, the reason he hopes to see if "his town has someone like you in it", is to give said "find" a few hair-twists and nose-pulls. Now, that sounds more like brotherly love.

Whisky Prajer said...

After all the hair-twisting and nose pulling I delivered, you can see quite plainly why my brother isn't "someone like me."