RARA-AVIS: Effinger and Willeford and Dumas

Sun, 26 Jul 1998 18:00:57 EDT One of the things I love about this list is that it keeps things coming
around. I always forget to save the names of recommended authors, but y'all
will mention them again sometime when I'm headed to the bookstore. The cream
keeps on rising.

So it's nice to return from the beach (Outer Banks, NC) to find Effinger
mentioned by someone (three of them, no less!) who is not me. ;-j Maybe a
few folks will go to a used bookstore to hunt down his _When_Gravity_Fails_ .
. . as it is out of print. Effinger is one of those well-praised authors who
unjustly suffers from a lack of an audience. News for fans: he has finished
the fourth of the Marid Audran novels--but his publisher refused to publish
it, saying it was too dark (sound familiar?). I have heard that ms. exist,
but have not had the pleasure of seeing it or even speaking with anyone who
has. Any further info would be much appreciated.

Kevin Smith asks:
<<<It's summertime, and the living is cheesy...What are you reading this

Heading off to the beach, I stopped at a bookstore to grab BOH, but it was not
available so I picked up _Miami_Blues_ as my first Willeford instead. Wow. I
will read every book this man has written. Willeford is so casual in his
movements that I forgot that there had to be a violent reckoning between Hoke
and Junior. Indeed, Willeford is so casual that the violence actually hurts
coming off the page. I didn't put it down. Which means that I had to move
quickly onto the other book I brought...

_The_Count_of_Monte_Cristo_ was a great beach book at over 1000 pages. I'd
even put in a nomination for it for proto-HB (written in 1844-5). Dumas
claims to have gotten the idea (wrongful incarceration, escape, revenge) and
some details from the Paris police archives. Most modern works would be hard-
pressed to equal the work's cynicism about human nature and, especially,
justice. I recommend the opportunistic prosecutor Villefort as a shining
exemplar of all we've grown to love (to hate) in the lawmen of classic HB.

About ordering foreign books: there's a bookstore in Cambridge, MA called
Schoenhof's (schoenhofs.com) that has a huge stock of other language texts.
That won't help you get books from England, but from France they're the best.
They also have english dictionaries of all flavors (slang, american-brit,
american-aussie, etc.).

And finally, apropos of the abilities of the modern undergraduate, my partner-
in-crime is a graduate student at a well regarded southern university.
Recently she taught a class consisting of some classics of "high modernism"
including Kafka's _The_Trial_ (and showing "The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari",
Duane; they didn't like it, but they dug "Battleship Potemkin"). You'd think
most undergraduates had the experience of getting a driver's liscence, but
these students persisted in wondering what sort of terrible society Kafka
lived in that he should write such depressing and obviously useless books.
They loved Proust. Go figure.

A short synopsis of _When_Gravity_Fails_:
In the twenty-third century, Marid Audran is a loner making his living doing
odd-jobs in the criminal quarter of an unnamed Arab city. He's a drunk and a
junkie and his acquaintances are strippers, whores and thugs. When a few
murders happen a little too close to Audran he starts to take a self-
preservative interest, but he doesn't really start to get involved until the
local crime boss makes Audran his "instrument of vengence."

Of particular note is the important bit of technology that gets hung onto the
story so you know you're in the future: people can plug personality modules
("moddies") directly into their brain and so experience the world as though
they are that person. Historical and fictional personages are available. Our
hero, Audran, is, of course, too independent to have his brain wired...

The story, and its continuation in the two sequels (_A_Fire_in_the_Sun_,
_The_Exile_Kiss_), is less about what happens in the world than what happens
to Audran as a man who defines himself as a loner when he is stripped of his
independence. Those who care about the "crime" will be disappointed at how
neatly that part of the book is wrapped up. WGF's major weakness, imo. Also,
like all good HB, the city is integral. The criminal quarter, The Budayeen,
is a great example of a finely drawn locale.

The epigraph of the book is from Chandler's "Simple Art of Murder":
"He must be the best man in his world and a good enough man for any world...He
is a lonely man and his pride is that you will treat him as a proud man or be
very sorry you ever saw him. He talks as the man of his age talks--that is,
with rude wit, a lively sense of the grotesque, a disgust for sham, and a
contempt for pettiness."

Which about sums up what it is to be a HB protagonist, doesn't it?


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