Monday, May 26, 2014

A Classic Noir Novel by Bruce Elliott

Reviewed by James L. Thane
Four out of five stars

This is a classic noir novel, originally published in 1952, that had long been virtually forgotten. Happily, it has been resurrected by the folks at Stark House Press and republished in a new double edition that also contains the excellent Black Wings Has My Angel by Elliott Chaze.

The protagonist is Larry Camonille, who has just led a prison break in which ten cons have escaped from the state pen in Joliet, Illinois. Camonille makes his way to Chicago where his girlfriend is supposed to be waiting with the money that Camonille has entrusted to her. Inevitably, of course, he arrives in the Windy City only to find that both the girlfriend and the money are long gone.

Camonille is not in the best of health and has only one lung. He is determined to make his way to Mexico, where he believes that the weather will be better for his health. But he's broke in Chicago, and one by one, the cons he escaped with are making the mistakes that allow them to be recaptured and sent back to prison.

Camonille is determined to avoid that fate and so robs a dope house to get some traveling money. He loses that fairly quickly to a sadistic railroad detective and finds himself broke again and on the road outside a small town in Ohio. His luck seems to turn for the better when a woman named Vera picks him up in her Cadillac and gives him a ride to a roadhouse outside of town. Vera is a widow who has some miles on her, but she knows the manager of the roadhouse and convinces him to give Camonille a job as a dishwasher.

In the usual fashion of a book like this, Camonille's situation gets trickier as things move along, and before you know it, the plot involves crooked lawyers, bickering spouses and a young teenage girl who is strangely attracted to Camonille, just as is his patroness, the lush and randy Vera. It all makes for a very combustible mix that includes more than a little kinky sex, which is fairly vividly described for 1952. The poor hapless Camonille is determined to escape the lawmen who are still hunting for him and to make his way to Mexico, but all sorts of webs are tightening around him and the odds of his making it don't look good.

All fans of noir fiction should be grateful to Stark House for reprinting this book and it's companion. They are both great reads and true classics of the genre.

Sssedarisss Isss A Ssseriousssly Sssilly Assss

Me Talk Pretty One DayMe Talk Pretty One Day by David Sedaris
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

As the title suggests, much of Me Talk Pretty One Day revolves around speech and speaking:

> Back in school lil' David (I guess he's still kind of little, isn't he) was forced into correcting his sibilant speech by a highly determined therapist. We're led to wonder if she wasn't stamping out boys' lisps through out the North Carolina school with an ulterior motive.
> A move from NY to Paris prompts David to take French lessons in France with hilarious results.

But that's about all there is to the main topic in this 5 disc set*. The rest is a mixed bag of topics:

> A stint as an avant garde performance artist.
> Drug use.
> His hilariously red-necked brother.
> The lives and deaths of family pets.
> Annoying American tourists.
> Teaching a writing course and having no idea how.
> Learning guitar from a sexist midget.
> Stories about his entertaining father.

That mixed bag of topics brings with it a mix in tone. Some pieces are just flat out funny, while others have a deeper meaning and seem almost too serious to laugh at...and yet I do.

Is there a mix in quality as well? My little jury of one is out on that still. I've listened to this one many times, maybe more than any of his others, and while I enjoy the heck out of it, there are long stretches where I wasn't laughing. Usually the ha-ha down-time is filled with me pondering expansively upon his chosen subject matter, so I'm never bored or disconnected from the Sedaris experience. But those looking for wall-to-wall laughs be warned.

* You really have to listen to Sedaris read is own material to get the full funny out of it. He is a humorist after all, and much like a comedian, you wouldn't get as many laughs from reading a script of their stand-up routine as you would from watching them live.

F-ed Up Family No Matter How You Dress It Up

Dress Your Family in Corduroy and DenimDress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim by David Sedaris
Reviewed by Jason Koivu
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

The Sedarises are crazy-ass muthafuckers! Loco gringos, hombre, loco.

Out of everything he's produced (I've read all of his major work and only missed a few short pieces) this is my favorite David Sedaris book. Yet, I don't recommend it...

...not always, not to everyone. The subject matter can be too much for some people, especially if they've been told that Sedaris is a humorist and then they encounter some the more depressing details of his real life experiences. I laugh my ass off at the bottom-feeder characters and occasional bargain basement morals herein, but some people will wring their hands and say, "Oh how awful."

Get over it and enjoy the ride, is my approach. The ride includes experiences of being gay and coming out (horrible and hilarious!), portraits of various family members that bring the people as vividly alive as any long-running tv show is capable, and living on his own for the first time, which includes apartment living in general and specifically the trials of low-income housing.

Sedaris is a master at what I call autobiographical short stories. They are short form pieces about his life and his life reads like carnival folklore, so seemingly unreal at times it feels surreal.

Some of his other books are not quite so warts-and-all. If you try Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim on for size, realize it may not suit you. Perhaps try on another first and ease your way into this strange fashion.

Audiobook Note: Listening to Sedaris read the audiobook is a must. He wrote the stories, hell, he lived the stories, so he knows how they're to be read. I've listened to him enough now that I can not only read his work in his voice, but also accurately guess at the necessary inflection in new material. Yeah, it's a gift...