RARA-AVIS: Down on Ponce

Bill Hagen (billha@ionet.net)
Fri, 24 Dec 1999 22:20:16 -0600 (CST)

Finally got to Fred Willard's DOWN ON PONCE (1997, Longstreet Press), and had some thoughts on it. [Fred had been an active member of RARA-AVIS, but recently withdrew to get some work done.]

 Thought at first that the short chapters would make the novel too
"light," but then realized I had wolfed down about 12 of 'em without blinking. "Bite sizes" lead to overeating.

SPOILER ADVISORY (I try to conceal, but...) Sam Fuller (nice name choice) and Charley are full bodied creations, distinguished by voices and phrasing that you can "hear." Bob, Lloyd, and Bug support well, although I was worried that three such noticeable characters would make blending in after the job a difficult task. Fred solved that problem through careful body accounting, and the sort of understandings you believe will hold, even in the world of Ponce (Atlanta
& points south). And the Jacksons are out there somewhere, lest we imagine the world has stabilized.

The plot moves well and most everything seems plausible. It helps, in terms of narrative, to have one crazy for each side. And Fred times certain characters' entrances to lift the level of tension. [Reader thinks, "Wait there are too many of them! We've just upped the potential for screwing up!"]

Atlanta, or maybe just Ponce, seems a small, comprehensible place in the novel, as compared to New York, LA, or just Harlem in other novels. But that's how I think of Atlanta anyway--a small town ringed and sliced by interstates. The rest is sprawl. As someone living in the South, I certainly liked the punches at/below the Bible Belt.

Longstreet Press did a fine job laying it out and A. Graham's cover is just right, seems to me, even down to the "FOOD" inset on the back cover. I hope it's getting distributed. (Bought mine from amazon.com.)

Let's hope Fred will publish another novel soon.

Merry Christmas to all as you read through the night....

Bill Hagen

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