I recently extolled the virtues of Declan Burke’s The Big O on the occasions of its re-release as an e-book. It occurred to me while writing that blog my original reading of The Big O was five years ago. It might be time to see if I’d still agree with my original assessment.
I read it again. Liked it even more.
Much of that is due to my maturing as a reader and writer myself. (it’s not like the book changed in the interim. It’s the same copy I read in 2008. Any changes must be some Harry Potter shit.) Now I can see how Burke pulled off much of what he did, mainly in how responsibly he sets up things that may seem off-the-wall later. Far from limiting my enjoyment, this understanding enhanced it. Listening to Tower of Power is always a pleasure, but understanding how the horn lines and rhythm sections are put together adds a level of appreciation for whoever wrote the chart, and his ability is take the same musical tools available to everyone else and make something unique from them.
Burke’s work is like that. He operates on multiple levels in what is admittedly a “screwball noir,” using everything in the toolbox to good effect. He knows there are some things he can get away with because the book is, in effect, a comedy, so he weaves the characters’ lives more closely together than might seem plausible in a more “serious” work. The effect created is not unlike classic comedy films, where complication after complication turn out to be related somehow until you have people leaving rooms half a second before someone looking for them enters through another door. Knowing how hard it is to pull off—trust me, I do know—makes it that much more satisfying to see it done successfully.
It is, unfortunately, not uncommon to re-read something and wonder, “Why did I do that?” After giving The Big O a second going-over, I was left thinking, “What took me so long?” Now my task is to work Eightball Boogie and Absolute Zero Cool each into the To Be Read list before too much time passes. I don’t like to make the same mistakes twice.