“The Terrifying Wish that Comes True: On Cain’s ‘The Cocktail Waitress’” from The Los angeles Review of Books:
James M. Cain tells fairy tales that end badly. For Cain, “the wish that comes true” comprises everything from spousal murder to criminally amassed wealth to incest to suppressed homosexual desire. As Freud knew, there’s nothing more shattering than getting what you really want, and Cain’s novels tend to end with the fulfillment of that ultimate secret wish — the protagonist’s death.
To Wander The Labyrinth—
One of the great things about this book is that early on, the reader realizes the the protagonist of the story tortures people. This is not your typical main character of a novel. His name is Clay and he is an interrogator for the “agency,” a part of a totalitarian government that appears to be the United States at some future time, mainly because the characters speak “American.” It’s a place where people that disagree with the state disappear, where dead bodies are thrown in trucks and discarded, never to be heard from again. The author, Brian Peters, doesn’t clarify where or when this is, or whether it is a right-wing or left-wing dystopian world, but history tells us with great clarity that totalitarianism can come from both ends of the spectrum, so it hardly matters. When people are treated as property in service of the state, and anyone who disagrees is the enemy, to be dealt with by any means necessary, you’ve got totalitarianism.
Also interesting is that the victim in this chapter-less book, Maya, becomes the main character that could possibly bring redemption to Clay, a man with serious “issues,” a man whose humanity is in question. How could he not have issues, given his personal history? After all, he wrote the book on the best methods to secure needed information—in Maya’s case, “data” of unknown content, but obviously significant in the suspenseful story that unfolds. Over time, we get a sense of the deep psychological damage done to Clay, by his chosen profession.
There are minor characters revealed, but we never know much about them, only that which helps move the story along.
The book is only two-hundred thirty-eight pages long and it is crisp writing, sparse in details, and with sharp dialog—a quick read. The title is an excellent choice, and its sparseness is what I liked about the book. The author treats the reader as an adult and allows one to fill in the pieces that aren’t clarified…to use one’s imagination. And I thought the ending was as it should have been. For a quick suspenseful and very different novel, Brian Peters’ first novel is definitely worth a look.
Book review from The Story Girl, who sounds like an interesting person.
From The Los Angeles Times,
The collection spans the author’s career and forms a sort of primer to his literary life.
From Seattlepi.com, an introduction with full content at the link:
There was a rumor going around that George Pelecanos was done with crime fiction. I, for one, am glad he put that rumor soundly away with the writing of The Cut , the first novel in the Spero Lucas (pronounced Spee-row) series. Whether it was the Derek Strange and Terry Quinn novels or stand-alones such as Drama City from 2005, Pelecanos brings a certain poetry, a certain literary touch to the crime fiction genre.
The Cut is no exception. Pelecanos understands the genre like Monet understood paint and landscape. He instinctively knows which clichés, which norms of the genre will work and which to avoid to maintain that literary height.
The Accomplices, by Simenon
It opens with a terrible bus accident at a dangerous curve in the rain…“just enough [rain] to cover the asphalt with a sticky film.” The place was known as the Big Hill. The bus full of Parisian summer camp children crashes and burns with only one survivor. Lambert had heard the bus horn behind him, not realizing he was driving in the middle of the road.
The Blue Room, by Georges Simenon
The psychological drama was first published in 1955 in French, then in English in 1964. On the first page it begins with “Andrée naked still on the ravaged bed, her legs apart, a few drops of semen clinging to the dark hair, shadowy between her thighs.” In their love-making, she had bitten Tony’s lip, hard enough to make it bleed. Oh, those crazy sexy French! It’s in the “blue room,” at his brothers hotel. We see that he’s either reminiscing or telling a psychiatrist and the Examining Magistrate his story under interrogation. He’s under arrest, for what we don’t yet know. Tony and Andrée are both married to other people and they’ve secretly met like this eight times. The critical questions are less from the magistrate and the psychiatrist, although they certainly help the story move along. Rather, they are the questions Andrée asks Tony during this tryst, fed slowly by the author:
In his New York Times book review of Let The Great World Spin (2009) by Colum McCann, Jonathan Mahler called it “one of the most electric, profound novels I have read in years.” I certainly thought so. I loved it—and will get a copy for my library. (I mostly read books from the public library, but then buy them if they are worthy.)
Although not completely located there, this is a New York City novel. This is also a book mostly about the ‘70s. One gets a clear picture of Park Avenue living, Bronx slums, the life of hookers, and clubbing at the hot places of that era. As backdrop, McCann uses Philippe Petit’s amazing high wire walk between the World Trade Center towers on August 7, 1974, which affects the characters, but it isn’t the story.
The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis (1898 –1963), published 1942
This is an entertaining piece of satire full of meaningful lessons on God and the work of the devil. It is in the form of 31 letters by Screwtape, a worldly-wise assistant to “Our Father Below,” written to his demon nephew Wormwood, a novice in the art of securing the damnation of an ordinary young man, new to Christianity. Lewis had commented on a couple errors that people make in regard to devils: “One is to disbelieve in their existence. The other is to believe, and to feel an excessive and unhealthy interest in them.” This great book delves further into the subject and I have liberally quoted from it.