RARA-AVIS: Jack O'Connell's The Resurrectionist, long post

From: DJ-Anonyme@webtv.net
Date: 28 Mar 2008

I recently looked Jack O'Connell up in the archives and was kind of surprised by how many times I had asked if anyone knew if and when his next book would come out. Ten years after 1998's Word Made Flesh, here The Resurrectionist finally is, another great addition to his Quinsigamond series. I recommend it highly.

That said, it made me think about the idea of "transcending the genre," but not in the way we've talked about it here in the past. Usually we've used the concept to describe books that allegedly "rise above" the usual genre "restrictions" to become something "more than." These are often praised for a writing style so artistic that it calls attention to itself as literary and/or its forefronting of social issues that are supposedly absent from "simple" genre works. As has been noted by Jim and others, there's a fair amount of condescension in play here and I don't think it's a coincidence that it's often slumming literary authors who seek to transcend the genre.

But none of that applies to Jack O'Connell and his books. First of all, O'Connell clearly loves, respects and is very knowledgeable on the genre, even edited an issue of Paradoxa on noir, which was later published in book form (keep meaning to pick that up). So he is condescending to nothing, does not see noir as something lower to condescend to. However, from the very beginning, his series has been something outside the norm of the genre. First of all, his is a series by virtue of setting, not character. While not unprecedented (for example, Dennis Lynd's Buena Costa County mysteries written as John Crowe), but it is rare. And Quinsigamond is no ordinary place. It is a decaying town of empty, rusting factories left by the industries that deserted the town and its people. And O'Connell has increasingly played up the German Expressionist and, here, the related Gothic aspects of the setting.

His first book, Box Nine, is the most orthodox crime novel of the series, with a cop as the main character and a plot based on her going after a drug lord. And while it's a relatively straight narrative, O'Connell is already touching on some weighty concepts on the periphery, using the book's drug, Lingo, to make passing allusions to issues of language and all sorts of posts, structuralism, modernism, etc. I certainly don't mean to imply it becomes a dry text to be trudged through, or even a postmodern narrative to be perplexed by. Not at all, the book works well as a thriller.

However, each successive book has gotten a bit further away from the thriller aspect. O'Connell has certainly not skimped on the entertainment value of his books, has always offered a "good read," but they are no longer simple cops and robbers stories. And each deals with a form of storytelling, radio, movies, and comic books.

And this is where I get back to the idea of transcending the genre. O'Connell has always been led by the story he has to tell, and this one has less to do with crime, well a specific crime (criminals are represented in the form of a biker gang, among others). So I'm not really sure if The Resurrectionist actually still qualifies as noir, though there are plenty of dark goings on, so much as gothic. There is even a mad scientist, well, two, if you count the one in the parallel story.

You see, you get two stories for the price of one in this book. The main story is about Sweeney, a man whose son is in a coma. He brings Danny to the Peck Clinic in Quinsigamond, which has had a couple of very small successes in reviving coma patients and sees Danny as a prime candidate. It doesn't take long to realize that there are some very odd, even sinister things going on in this clinic, though. Paralleling this are occasional chapters of Sweeney reading his comatose son an issue of the complex story of his favorite comic book, Limbo, about the travails of a traveling troupe of freak show freaks. The parallels between the real world and the comic book become stronger and stronger. Throw in a biker gang with mysterious ties to the clinic and you've got another great dark tale of Quinsigamond.

But O'Connell may have transcended the genre, not by giving us something more (the genre is enough), but by giving us something very different. He has crossbred the genre with so many other things that it is something other, something unique. Most of all, though, it's a great, albeit very strange, read.


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