RARA-AVIS: Pete Hautman, _Rag Man_

From: Larson, Craig ( Craig.Larson@trinidadstate.edu)
Date: 18 Aug 2003

One of the books I read while I was away for a two-week vacation was Pete Hautman's _Rag Man_. The blurbs on the book led me to expect a rollicking, comedic story along the lines of Carl Hiaasen, but this was a pretty downbeat and ultimately depressing story that really doesn't seem that out of place for a mention on this list. Has anyone else read it? Other Hautman titles?

The book follows what happens when Mack MacWray, a decent, amiable guy who works as a sewer for a sportswear company is conned into leaving and starting his own clothing company by Lars Larson. Larson will be the "people" man and Mack the
"rag" man. Everything seems to be going just great until the day that Larson, the beautiful secretary, and all the money disappear. Mack is left holding the bag and sees his dreams, his life go up in smoke. His wife, a part-time travel agent, convinces him to take a short trip to Mexico, to give them a breather before coming back to deal with the mess--the broken loan, the unfilled orders, the layoff of his workers.

While in Mexico, Mack just happens to stumble upon Lars. It turns out Larson is a con man who has done this same thing before to a number of other poor schlubs. The secretary, Rita, is actually his wife and they have a condo in Mexico where they live in between jobs. Mack confronts Lars on a clifftop and an accident happens, leaving him with the choice whether to save Lars or ignore his pleas for help.

When the MacWrays return to the States, Mack is strangely energized. All of a sudden, he has what it takes to be completely and utterly ruthless in his business dealings and, before long, not only has he climbed out of the hole that Larson left him in, but he's making plans to expand, leasing a Mercedes, and looking to buy a big new house. His wife's best friend is on the prowl for him and before too long, Rita shows up, looking for the contents of her and Lars' safe deposit box, which a man resembling MacWray cleaned out.

This was a very noirish book, though for a while, the hapless loser MacWray is able to turn the tables and ride roughshod over everyone of his tormentors. When he starts to lose some of his hard edge, the blackmailing Rita, the adulterous affair, the loans on top of loans, all start coming back to haunt him. When his wife begins to miss the old Mack, the sensitive, communicative guy she married, and starts to suspect maybe he's having an affair with Rita, the stage is set for a rather downbeat conclusion. I'm not sure I really liked the book, though it is certainly well-written. Should I give Hautman another try?

Craig Larson Trinidad, CO

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