Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Early Summer Reading: Girl Crazy by Russell Smith, In Search Of Captain Zero by Allan C. Weisbecker
Poor Justin, sliding uncomfortably into his 30s and their manifold disconsolations. He has a former girlfriend who’s “moved on” but keeps calling at inopportune moments, he’s an academic teaching a blow-off course, and he’s ensconced in a crappy, sweltering apartment. He registers the beautiful women available to everybody but himself, the supercilious boss pulling in some sort of action on the side, but these are indecipherable mysteries he can’t quite break into. At least not until he meets Jenna, a 20-year-old stripper who crash-lands in Justin’s life, pulling a trainload of contraband and violence behind her.
As improbable as this platform sounds, it launches the tautly strung thriller that is Girl Crazy (A). Russell Smith’s blurb-buddy Barbara Gowdy invokes Elmore Leonard (and Nabokov), but I was put more in mind of Tapping The Source (w), by Leonard protégé Kem Nunn, in which a naif figures out the way things work by blundering heedlessly into a very bad scene. As with Tapping, Smith’s book rests on a sturdy architecture of artful intrigue. And yes, dear Canadian readers, there is some sex: not the perfumed meditations of Nabokov or even Updike, but the horny-porny variety. Readers discomfited by or inured to such pulpy pleasures should stay away; the rest of us can enjoy Smith’s mash-up of pulp-slash-satire-slash-psychological-thriller.
Speaking (tangentially) of surfing books, Allan C. Weisbecker’s memoir In Search Of Captain Zero: A Surfer's Road Trip Beyond The End Of The World (A) is the latest addition to my surfer’s library. For reasons that didn’t become clear to me until the very end of the book, Weisbecker is keen, almost desperate, to relocate an old friend and former drug-running partner who’s disappeared in South America. Weisbecker throws his surfboards into a camper, calls his dog and drives down the west coast right into Costa Rica looking for his friend, catching more than a few bitchin' waves en route.
The bald facts of the journey make for compelling reading, but while Weisbecker’s capital-A “Alpha” male bona fides provide the impetus for the trip (and the book), they too frequently conjure a seriously blinkered point of view. Any noob who spends a little time amongst drunks, druggies, religious fanatics and/or surfers will come away telling you the conversation cycles back to the arcane again and again, and that any insight discernible to outsiders is gleaned with great difficulty. Weisbecker does get to the insight, but for this reader, who has neither surfed nor run drugs, there was quite a swamp of arcana to wade through. I rank Captain Zero well above Daniel Duane’s Caught Inside (A), but decidedly below Thad Ziolkowski's On A Wave (A, w), which is, for me, the star to shoot for.
Decide for yourself, of course. Weisbecker's site is here. "Out-gonzoing Hunter S. Thompson" is no small claim, but if anyone comes close to it, Weisbecker does.
Speed reading quotient: Girl Crazy, 12%, Captain Zero 65%.