RARA-AVIS: Sideswipe

From: William Denton ( buff@pobox.com)
Date: 14 Jan 2001

Is anyone else reading the Hoke Moseley books for Willeford month? I just finished SIDESWIPE, the third, some of which is lifted from NO EXPERIENCE NECESSARY (1962), which I read last year. Like MIAMI BLUES it goes back and forth between Hoke and a charming criminal psychopath, here Troy Louden. For those reasons it all seemed familiar, and I started off not liking it as much as the two previous Hoke books, but by the time I was done I liked it most of all.

Hoke has a breakdown and retreats to what he imagines as the calm, peaceful, solitary life of an apartment manager on an island near Miami. He can't get away from it all, though. His Aileen daughter follows him because she and her sister love him and are worried about him, the tenants bother him, there's crime, and he just can't get things uncomplicated. Louden, in the parallel narrative, has pieced together a family of his own, with Pops, a dull-witted retiree off a Ford assembly line, Dale, a stripper and prostitute with a perfect body and a face that was beaten to a pulp, and James Freitas-Smith, an artist who paints in a "nonobjective" style, which seems to mean just plain ugly. The two story-lines end up meeting at the end, but in sideways sort of way, not any obvious slam-bang. Hoke, who was happy as a clam at the end of MIAMI BLUES that he hadn't been made lieutenant, is now back on the job, having learned
"there was no way a man could simplify his life," and planning on getting a promotion. His daughters are well, Ellita's had a son and can stay home and raise him, and if the retreat to the island hadn't worked out, it had been a worthwhile experiment.

There's quite a bit about food in this book, and I noticed it's all tied to families. Dale cooks up enormous, delicious meals for Louden and the other two men; when Hoke is on his own he plans to make chili once a week and eat it for five days running. Pops Sinkiewicz, who had a simple life until his wife left him and he got involved with a madman, is reduced to making tomato soup from a can, and not even the way his wife made it, with a bit of whipping cream. Aileen is anorexic and throws up after every meal she has with Hoke. (Art and books are also mentioned much more than in the earlier books.)

Much could be written about the book, and volumes could be written about Willeford's life and books. Why isn't it being done? The man's one of the major American writers of the last century, and while he seems to be getting more attention each year, it's not enough. Don Herron's book on him isn't enough. If he hadn't written about cops, criminals, psychopaths, cockfighting and modern art, he might get more attention, but then he wouldn't be Willeford. Surely there are few other writers of his calibre who have led such interesting lives, either, and documented them in books like A GUIDE FOR THE UNDEHEMORRHOIDED. If you haven't read any Willeford, by all means, please start. You won't regret it.

Here's Hoke's impression of Pops Sinkiewicz, an extremely boring, law-abiding man who worked for decades painting lines on cars in Detroit, being sickened every day by the paint fumes: "He looked at the old man's lined, pigeon-gray face, and shook his head. Hoke knew an old lag when he saw one, and he could tell, just by looking at this old con, that the man had spent most of his life in prison. When they finally got his record, it would probably be three feet long."


William Denton : Toronto, Canada : http://www.miskatonic.org/ : Caveat lector.

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