RARA-AVIS: Response to Kevin re. Pelecanos

E J M Duggan (ejmd@mcmail.com)
Wed, 11 Nov 1998 23:16:12 -0800 On Wed, 11 Nov 1998 Kevin Smith <kvnsmith@colba.net> wrote:

> If Pellecanos is rated highly, it's more of a U.K. thing.

The material I've seen--reviews on websites, following (I think!) URLS
posted to this list; comments from rara-avians and blurbs--suggests The
Pelican is considered pretty hot on his own side of the pond.

I thought (I may be wrong) most of his books were available via Amazon,
except for some early ones which are, I believe, rather collectible.

> But I thought F.O. was a breath of fresh air, and really touched something
> in me. Possibly it's generational or something (Pelecanos and I are the
> same age).

Me too--I've have those jobs and pulled those stunts--perhaps that's why
I thought the Stefanos saga written in a style I described as
'trying-too-hard', GPP writing with one eye over his shoulder. That's
what came off as vapid to me.

> I didn't find Firing Offense or Nick's Trip (so far) "frankly rather vapid"
> at all, and I didn't find it as derivative of Hammett, Cain or any of the
> others as you did.

I didn't mean to imply that I found the Pelican derivative of DH, JMC,
et al; I said that those names were frequently invoked in cover blurbs;
the point I was making was that GPP's novels were like copies of
originals that never existed--not quiote the same as saying Pelecanos is
'like' or 'derivative' of Hammett, Cain, et al.

> And although I didn't realize Pelecanos was repeating almost word-for-word
> certain short scenes and descriptions from book to book, I think this was
> intentional-a nod to astute readers (like you, Eddie. Me? I never noticed
> it) and a way to make sure nobody misses his idea of a string of connected
> books. Pelecanos seems to be saying that, while it may not be all one book,
> it is all one story-the story, it seems, of Washington, D.C.

I disagree. I stand by the criticism levelled in the _Crime Time_
article. I think, frankly, it's a cheap and nasty and lazy thing to
do. If he keeps this up this tendency to self-plagiarise I think it
could cost him readers. Makes one wonder what the editors at his
publishers get paid for (then again, the Pelican has shifted publisher
fairly frequently, so maybe all the editors read are 'reputations' based
on sales, cover blurbs and promo material, rather than novels?)

> Which brings me to another thing-regarding King Suckerman, you ask "is
> there any point then in Pelecanos bringing his formula and polish to black
> experience when ...it's available in its raw state....Pelecanos writes for
> the white boys..." The answer is YES!

My tongue was in my cheek here. The 'heroes' in _Suckerman_ are fairly
straightforward heterosexuals and only mildly ambiguous in terms of
their legal activities. The 'baddies' are coded as such by their
sexuality. Meanwhile, the young white boys are wankers, literally and
metaphorically. I was suggesting--waggishly--that perhaps Pelecanos
writes for wankers--like those young white boys in _Suckerman_--and the
real deal can be found in, for example Iceberg Slim. As Wilton Cooper,
one of the characters in _King Suckerman_ puts it, 'they took that shit
straight from Ice, man.'

> Are you suggesting only black people can (or should) write about
> blacks? Would Mosley's books be less worthy if it turned out Mosley
> was-GASP!-not black?

There's a can of worms here that I'm reluctant to shake up. But I'm not
suggesting a white author can cannot/should not write about black
issues; nor should a hetero author shy away from gay/lesbian issues, etc
etc. (If _Crime Time_ had run my piece on _Always Outnumbered, Always
Outguned_ you would have seen that 'worthiness' (even if I don't use
that particular word) is one of the things I think Mosely strives too
hard for (maybe Peter D-P has it scheduled for the next issue?)).

It doesn't really matter if Mosely or the Pelican are black, blue or
But if Alex Haley was adopted--well, that's a different issue.

> it seems strange to hear someone, even an English professor, an
> ocean away accuse him of not getting his hometown right, or question
> whether there's any point to him writing about it.

I didn't mean to suggest GPP was inaccurate in his depiction of the
setting/location, in fact, some of the material I've read suggests GPP's
DC is as geographically precise as Hammett's SF. The point I was
raising--raising rather than answering--was to do with what I suppose
would be covered by the terms 'race' and 'culture', broad and
problematic as they are. What I said was, 'Is _Suckerman_ just another
piece of blaxploitation, or is it something more than a wigger-text,
simply leeching on black style?'

I suppose that's kind of unanswerable, but it would be interesting to
know who's buying _Suckerman_, and whether consumers of _Suckerman_
consider it part of black popular culture, white popular culture, or
something in between.

> Were Iceberg Slim's books set in D.C.?

Iceberg Slim was originally from Chicago; I think most (all?) of his
stuff is set there, although he actually lived in LA after they let him
out of clink.

> But your point about fathers and male relationships was spot-on, and
> they've added another dimension to my reading. And I enjoyed the
> Tarantino/Pelecanos comparisons. That one I had noticed, but never
> articulated as well as you did. I'm not sure about the conservatism and
> cloying morality, but I'll keep an eye peeled. Thanks.

Thank *you* for the compliment. I'm glad you enjoyed the piece.


(Thinks [off]: I wonder if this thread can be used to
claim expenses for PR work for CT? ;-> )

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