Woke up at 5 AM this morning, a million little agonies bugging me out of sleep, so I turned on the light and read the last hundred pages or so of GINMILL, which my book group discusses tonight. This is one of the titles rara avians suggested, though 8 MILLION WAYS TO DIE seemed to edge it in preference just a nudge. I'll get to that soon, I hope.
I have to say, I'm both blown away and a little embarrassed it took me so long to get here. I can see why moving 8 MILLION to LA for the movie would feel like such a violation. Scudder is so clearly a creature of New York, and the book so clearly roots itself in its place and time. Like moving Maigret to Athens.
Above and beyond the pacing and dialogue and wit, not to mention the elegant clarity of the writing, all of which are unparalleled, I was incredibly moved by the haunting resonance of the theme, which is simply deceit -- to oneself as well as others -- and the terrible and unforeseeable and yet eerily inevitable wreckage that results. The treachery and cowardice embedded in the characters' delusions sneak up on you so gently in this book, which is what makes their ultimate effect so powerful.
That Scudder is both participant/patsy and observer in the story, that he takes part both unwittingly (drunkenly) and knowingly (semi-soberly) in some of the vengeance and bloodshed, gives the book both a hard-eyed clarity and a tenderness, both steeped in regret. I know it sounds like a joke, but the book gave me a hangover -- call it a mood hangover -- which all good books and films do, of course.
The use of the Van Ronk song as a thematic touchstone was deftly played and is still banging around inside my brain. And the remark at the end -- I don't regret a single one of those drinks I took, and pray to God I never take another -- it crystallizes human fallibility and our redeeming capacity for insight in a single stroke, without playing for irony. In fact the writing is sincere in the best sense -- Block never winks at the reader from some knowing perch. He's in the same stinking mess as everyone else, and cops to it. A wise little book that also has some great turns and is just a damn good read.
Thanks to all who recommended it.
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