Monday, July 30, 2018

Movies Since Last Time

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) There’s a good movie inside this premise, but this isn’t it. Mildred Hayes’s (Frances McDormand) daughter has been brutally raped and murdered. The police have no suspects and Mildred’s tired of waiting, so she pays for three billboards outside of town to get the police off the dime, calling out the chief by name. The problem with her tactic—and the movie—is that Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is a decent man doing what he can with the evidence he has who is also dying of cancer. This pretty much kills off any sympathy—or empathy—the town—and I—had for Mildred. We then learn she was a bitch on wheels before any of this happened. Sam Rockwell earned his Oscar—though he’s done work just as good on other occasions—but his character’s transformation is not believable. There are also more plot holes than can be described here. It’s the cinema equivalent of a literary novel: the creator had some emotional duress he wanted to describe, and he plugged in the character as needed. Odd way to treat them in what’s supposed to be a character-driven film.

Deadpool (2016) I don’t do superhero movies but this looked like a satire and night be fun. It is a satire and it was way past just fun. (Yes, I know it’s been out two years and everyone knows it’s a satire. Thanks for reminding me I’m old and get off my lawn.) A little like Ted for superheroes, good taste and temperate plotting and language are not part of the equation here. Not for the faint of heart or the easily offended, but I’m already in for the sequel.

The Great Train Robbery (1978) A sweet little tongue-in-cheek fictionalized account of an actual train robbery in England circa 1855. Sean Connery, Donald Sutherland, and Leslie Ann Down are the core of a Victorian era Ocean’s Eleven. It won’t pay to look too closely at the plot contrivances—which, to be fair, is true of almost all caper movies—and bask in the great fun Connery, Sutherland, and Down have. Bonus coverage: that actually is Sean Connery running across the top of the train.

Appaloosa (2008) A labor of love for Ed Harris, who produced, directed, and starred in this outstanding adaptation of Robert B. Parker’s first Virgil Cole – Everett Hitch Western. Harris and Viggo Mortensen have outstanding chemistry as Cole and Hitch and screenwriters Harris and Robert Knott were smart to preserve as much of Parker’s original dialog as they could. Jeremy Irons is suitably greasy as the corrupt rancher with contacts in high places. Renee Zellweger is all right, but it’s hard to imagine such a pinched-face little ferret leading a man like Virgil Cole around by the dick. I’ve read the original choice to play the part was Diane Lane. I can believe her having that effect on Virgil. Or pretty much anyone else.

Ted (2012). “Hysterically funny and wildly inappropriate,” was how The Sole Heir™ described this one to me after she saw it in theaters in as good and succinct a review as anything I can give it. Just as funny (and inappropriate) the second time around. Worth watching for the pleasure of Mark Wahlberg’s “lightning round” of white trash names and the hotel room fight between him and Ted.

Heat (1995) Hadn’t seen it in a long time but The Beloved Spouse™ had never seen it and Benoit Lelievre had just done a review in Dead End Follies, I was on vacation, so what the hell. A little slower in spots than I remembered and Pacino’s a little over the top, but the core of the film holds as solidly as ever. This one will stay in film discussions forever for the coffee shop scene and the climactic robbery, but those scenes, great as they are, shouldn’t be allowed to overshadow how much other good stuff is here.

Sicario (2015) We discovered Taylor Sheridan with Hell or High Water, went all in with Wind River, and are currently engrossed in Yellowstone, so I took some of my vacation time to check out the film that got him his break as a writer. As with the others, well written, especially so for the actors, which makes sense considering Sheridan broke into the business as an actor. Emily Blunt, Josh Brolin (for whom I gain more respect all the time), and Benecio del Toro are all outstanding in this look at what the drug war has done along the Mexican border and the lengths we’re willing to go. It’s fiction, but there’s not much doubt there are “good guys” who don’t give much more of a fuck than do del Toro and Brolin how things shake out.

True Grit (2010) Damn, this is a good movie. The original is good, too, but Hailee Steinfeld vs. Kim Darby and Matt Damon vs. Glen Campbell are no contests. (Glen Campbell? Really?) The Coen Brothers stick very closely to the book, which provides a much more satisfying ending based on what has come before than does the original. I’ve seen this one a few times now and I expect to see it a few times more.  

Small Town Crime (2017) There’s no one better than John Hawkes right now, and he gets to shine here. Another good one I heard about courtesy of Dead End Follies and well worth it. Hawkes is the stereotypical drunken cop who fucks up one time too often way too bad and is out on his ass. His life is in the shitter until he stumbles across a dead girl on the side of the road. Small Town Crime isn’t a great movie but it does what it sets out to do once it hits its stride with a nice mix of plot twists and drily dark humor. Robert Forster has a small part and is, as usual, outstanding.

Die Hard (1988) The original and still the best. By “original” I don’t just mean the first of the Die Hard series; I mean of action movies as we know them. Bruce Willis is perfect as John McClane, a New York cop traveling to LA to try to repair his marriage who stumbles into the ultimate worst-case scenario. You’ve seen the movie—if you haven’t you should probably never read this blog again—so there’s no need to talk about the plot. The movie works in large part due to Willis’s sense of vulnerability and ingenuity in overcoming overwhelming odds. I’ve lost track of how many time I’ve seen it and knew everything that was about to happen and still found myself on the edge of my seat.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Raymond Chandler, Misogynist?

Megan Abbott started a bit of a sensation recently by writing in Slate about the perils of appreciating Raymond Chandler in the era of #MeToo. Abbott was prompted by an article Katy Waldman penned for The New Yorker back in April that took Whit Reynolds’s challenge to her Twitter followers to “describe yourself like a male author would” and ran with it. There is no longer any controversy that all dead cis white male authors were misogynists. It is only a question of how misogynistic.

I’m a crime guy and Abbott focused on Waldman’s comments about Chandler so that’s where I’m going to focus, the primary position of this article being: Enough, already. Chandler was a lot of things. An alcoholic, absolutely. A dismal failure in everything he tried to do except writing. The more I learn about him the more I am convinced he was a first-rate asshole. Misogynist? I’m not so sure.

There are essentially five women in Chandler’s work: three individuals, the victims, and the harlots. The individuals are worth looking into more for what they say about Philip Marlowe than about Chandler. Vivian Regan in The Big Sleep is a worthy adversary. The sexual tension between them was well utilized in the original film adaptation by bringing Bogart and Bacall together. Vivian is smart, knows what she wants, and is willing to take action to get it. She’d fit into a 21th Century story quite well.

Ann Riordan of Farewell, My Lovely is the best person of all the women Marlowe meets, but she’s also the best person he meets, period. He, of course, wants nothing to do with her. Many have tried to explain this, but I’m an Occam’s Razor guy and look for the simplest reason that makes sense: He likes her, he appreciates her, and he knows he’s no good for her. Much is made of Marlowe’s knight errancy (yes, I made that up; get over it) but rarely is it shown better than here.

And then there’s Eileen Wade of The Long Goodbye. Marlowe might have done his best for her, at least until he found out she was imperfect, after which he did his worst. Chandler’s long “taxonomy” of blondes Waldman decries does less to disparage the demographic than to show Eileen’s perfection. Discovering the clay between her toes is more than Marlowe can bear.

What Chandler really describes in Marlowe is a man with a complicated, unsuccessful, and likely scarred relationship to women. Someone on Facebook—I truly wish I remember who, and I apologize for my failure—mentioned he had the idea Marlowe had been badly hurt by a woman as a young man and never really got over it. That makes as much sense as anything, especially when considered in the context of his treatment of Lola Barsaly in “Red Wind,” for whom he takes to no small amount of trouble and some expense so she won’t find out the dead man she still loves was “just another four-flusher.” Marlowe doesn’t always treat women the way they’d like to be treated, or the way we might like to see them treated, but he’s not a misogynist.

Why are we even talking about this? There are two related points that neither Waldman nor Abbott make that could be all we need to know. First is that Chandler was writing to make a buck. He’d failed at everything and turned to writing for Black Mask because he’d read some stories and figured he could do at least that well and get paid in the bargain. He changed the genre forever, but let’s not forget why he wrote in the first place: for sales. He typed his manuscripts up on half sheets of paper so there would never be more than that much space between engaging similes, not because he was making symbolic references.

Which brings us to the second point: he was writing what readers expected of the genre at the time. Yes, he elevated the language, but he wrote to sell to audiences he shared with writers long forgotten. The conventions of the day included a casual societal misogyny and racism that would be unacceptable today. It’s always risky, and presumptuous, to judge those of the past by the standards of the present, and this is no exception.

And what if one dives deeper than I have here and decides Marlowe was a misogynist? That doesn’t mean Chandler was. He was a drunk and an arrogant asshole, but I’ve seen nothing that shows a pattern of poor behavior toward women. We all write characters who do not share our virtues, and we all do it for our own reasons. Reading too much into the author based on his fiction is risky business I doubt too many would want to have applied to us.

And even then, so what? Are there not enough misogynists (racists, homophobes, whatever) in the word right now, today, for us to take issue with? Whether Chandler or Mailer or Updike had issues with women is water under the bridge. Some seem to enjoy taking down people who can no longer be hurt, maybe because they also can’t defend themselves. Would our time not be more constructively spent taking action about those who are causing damage today?

Friday, July 20, 2018

Guest Post by Dale Phillips: The Simple Art of Murder

Today’s guest post is by Dale Phillips, who is one of those people who gives crime fiction writers a good name and deservedly so. Dale has published novels, story collections, non-fiction, and over 70 short stories. Stephen King was Dale's college writing teacher, and since that time, he’s found time to appear on stage, television, in an independent feature film, and compete on Jeopardy, losing in spectacular fashion. (Which is the best way to lose. No point going out quietly. ) In his spare time he co-wrote and acted in a short political satire film and has traveled to all 50 states, Mexico, Canada, and through Europe. I've read some of Dale's stuff and will read more. He's an underappreciated gem of a writer.

Thank you, Dana for allowing me to pontificate here, as I love talking about mystery writing: its origins and practice, and the reasons why I spend so many hours of private time creating stories of it.

I first saw Dana King when he was quoting from The Simple Art of Murder, the famous essay by noir master Raymond Chandler. I was the one in the audience nodding in vigorous agreement, and practically shouting Amen! Because what Dana was describing, by way of Chandler, was the type of mystery novel I write (currently five books), and my protagonist Zack Taylor.

Chandler argued the virtues of the hard-boiled detective novel, and this piece stands as one of the most insightful and eloquent studies of detective/crime/mystery fiction. It explains why writers like Dana and I write what we do, and not mannered tales of English vicars who repeatedly stumble across bodies and help the hapless local constabulary solve quaint murders in even quainter villages.

They say to write the kind of book you like to read, and I was indoctrinated by the masters of the hard-boiled school: Dashiell Hammett, Chandler, Jim Thompson, Mickey Spillane. John D. MacDonald, Robert B. Parker, and so many more. Here, murder is a dirty business, where people aren't being offed for control of a mansion or an inheritance, but sometimes for a few bucks in their pocket, or because they've fallen in love with the wrong person or crossed someone dangerous. In these tales, the people who killed will likely kill again, unless they are stopped. There is a great deal of peril for the person trying to solve the crime, and things won't be going back to a quiet, normal existence, because murder leaves a horrid stain on all those who come in contact with it.

So I write what I know, the life of people in Maine, and I try to bring those stories to a sense of realism with people you might know. I find it difficult to connect with the kind of traditional mystery where a cozy Mrs. Pennyfeather sips tea and somehow brings a murderer to justice with help from her cat and her quilting club. In my books, I show the aftermath of violence, how it marks people and affects their lives. I depict a flawed hero, a man who makes many mistakes, but who desperately tries to be a better person, even though he’s resigned to being the outcast, the near-criminal who can only make a difference by being what he is. I model my series and character after John D. MacDonald’s Travis McGee, and pay homage, even though my character is far more flawed, far less effective, and haunted by the things he’s done. Like Travis, he’s not above scooping up windfalls of illicit money. It helps him to help others, and keeps him out of jail by paying a very expensive attorney.

Too often the rich and powerful can escape justice for their crimes, and if Zack Taylor cannot bring justice, at least he can conjure a reckoning. But in doing so, there is usually unintended collateral damage, and Zack pays a terrible price for doing what he does. In the latest book, A Sharp Medicine, Zack realizes he’s losing the love of his life because of his brushes with violence. He begins to unravel, and his solution is to go deeper into danger and risk, searching for a missing reporter.

One big problem for our hero, though. Despite the fact that murders and criminals love and
use guns, Zack hates them due to a past tragedy, and doesn’t use them. Too often in mystery fiction the protagonist whips out a gun to escape danger and all problems are instantly solved. Where’s the fun in that? Better to have our protagonist at a major disadvantage, leaving the reader wondering how he’s going to survive. Makes for a more interesting tale, in my opinion.

I also put themes in each book- nothing that slows the action down, but bolsters the meaning of it all. If all Zack did was beat people up while solving murders, the series would get boring quickly. I change things up and try to better my game with each book in the series, and the careful reader will get more than just a good action yarn. The series is a study in human nature, drawn from life.

There are things I don’t put in my books. Murder is bad enough, so I don’t put in graphic torture scenes or the detailed abuse of children or animals. And while trying to give the air of authenticity, I shy away from detailing ways to successfully commit crime. There are authors who have had readers use something they learned in an author’s book, and I don’t want to be responsible for anything like that.

So if you like your fiction hard-boiled, down-to-earth, and a tad gritty at times, give the Zack Taylor series a try. Whether it’s the mean streets of Portland, Maine or Penns River (as in Dana’s work), you’ll get a good read that’s worth your time.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Nostalgia Post: Inside Man

(I’m away from the blog today for my semi-decennial colonoscopy. To hold you over, here's a post I wrote for my previous blog, From the Home Office, upon a similar occasion ten years ago. Nothing has changed.)

Among the “benefits” of being fifty-one years old and the owner of a hemorrhoid and family history of colon cancer is the necessity for occasional colonoscopies. (For those of you not well versed in the intricacies of invasive medical procedures, a colonoscopy involves sending a fiber optic tube approximately 75 feet up your ass to take pictures of your innards. Think I exaggerate? It wasn’t your asshole.)

The first impression I got of yesterday’s procedure was the warning that the laxative I had to drink should be ingested through a straw, “to get it past the taste buds.” Doesn’t that sound promising? I hadn’t tasted anything this nasty since Lady Voldemort and I went our separate ways.

There’s more to do than just drinking Liquid Plumber for Humans. My pre-procedure fast lasted forty-two hours. That’s a long time for a 240-pound man. Calling it a “fast” is a misnomer; time had not moved this slowly since I left Lady Voldemort. (I know, that’s two paragraphs in a row. Having things shoved up my ass must bring her to mind.)

Forty-two hours doesn’t seem like much compared to Gandhi’s hunger strikes, but look at the context. Gandhi didn’t weigh a buck-twenty-five, even if his diaper was wet. I need twice as much food just to maintain weight. Plus, food obviously takes a more elevated place in my pantheon of pleasures than his. (That’s why I weigh 240, right?)

Aside from that, what did Gandhi eat, and how much of a sacrifice was it to skip three, four, or fifty meals? To me, anything eaten that doesn’t have at least some meat in it is a snack, not a meal. My relatively brief fast allowed cattle to sleep easier than anything since the advent of Chick Fil-A.

So it’s the morning of the procedure. I’m starving, and my butt’s been wiped more times than Tom Cruise has been asked to come out of the closet. I talk to the doctor for a few minutes, and he steps out of sight and gets quiet. For all I know he left the room. Just about the time I start to wonder when the hell they’re going to get this show on the road, the nurse offers me something to drink.

Not my colon. At least I don't think so.
Hard to tell from this angle.
It’s over. I missed it. The anesthesia was so quick and so good, I didn’t even have to count backward from one hundred. If I did, I don’t remember it. Nothing to complain about here, right? An invasive procedure rendered so painless I missed it. Couldn’t be better.

Maybe. Problem is, did I get scoped at all? Sure, they gave me color pictures. What difference does that make? Could you pick your colon out of a photo array? For all I know, they could have played tic-tac-toe on my bare ass with felt-tipped pens. It’s not like I can see back there.

It’s all about trust. (Let’s face it, if pulling down your pants and allowing strangers to knock you out without any supervision isn’t all about trust, I don’t know what is.) The good news is that recent advances in technology have allowed them to make the fiber optic tubes both longer, and more flexible. So now I not only know my colon is clean, I don’t have any cavities, either.

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Writer's Block? Nah.

I haven’t written a fictional word since March. Even then I was putting the finishing edits on the work in progress, so I guess one could argue I have not written an original word of fiction this year. (I realize there are those who might posit I have never written an original word of fiction. Bite me.)

It’s not writer’s block. I’m not stuck. I just don’t feel like it. The two books I already have finished are due out next year so there’s no way I’ll have anything else that needs to be published until at least 2020, so there’s no sense of urgency. I have other things on my mind and they’re sucking up much of my energy.

Joe Clifford made one of his more insightful comments at last year’s Toronto Bouchercon when he said teen angst is what happens when a young person develops sources of information other than his parents and realizes Mom and Dad have been lying to him. “Lying” may be too strong a term, but the kid realizes that what his parents have been telling him about the world isn’t true and now he has no idea who or what to trust.

I’ve been going through the adult version for several years now, the process exacerbated by the 2016 presidential campaign, the election, and subsequent events. Not to be political, but there are things on my mind demanding attention. Fiction seems trivial. I have words, but need a better place to use them for the time being.

I’ve been more abrupt than usual in some discussions. (Diversity in conferences, how to address enbies, a few others.) I know these matters are of great importance to some, and it’s a sign of my white male privilege that I’m not directly affected, but compared to babies being taken from their parents and people losing health care and long and mutually beneficial international alliances being torn asunder, they’re not at the top of my list of concerns. The garden where I grow my fucks has been overfarmed. I need a little crop rotation so I can move forward again.

I took last week off, not just from work but from life in general. Very little time reading the news or Facebook. It was a pleasure, so much so I actually found the urge to write returning. I have a short story for an anthology due by the end of the month, and a good idea for that. The outline for the next Penns River book is taking shape and the germ of an idea for a new Nick Forte novel has come to mind. (Writers among you are snickering. We all know the distance from “germ of an idea” to “something I’m willing to spend a year writing.” On the bright side, there is no “something I’m willing to spend a year writing” without there first being the germ of an idea.) I spent several of my vacation evenings watching familiar Westerns and the long-postponed Western novel now has a few more things fleshed out, at least in my mind.

It’s easy for those of us who live so much in our own heads to talk about how hard writing is. How I can’t write something about what’s really bothering me, not only because it will no longer be topical by the time the book comes out, but because things one is too close to are almost impossible to write well. What’s getting me past that is reminders that, no matter how much I may shy away from writing something ripped from the headlines, I’m not the person who had his children taken away because I asked for something I have a right to do, nor have I lost my health insurance because someone who makes more money in a day than I make in three months would rather people lose their homes—or die—because they can’t afford proper medical care than pay an extra few percent in taxes. I have a good life—better than I have any right to expect or deserve—and to have to imagine misfortune in order to write about it is a blessing I cannot in good conscience ignore.

That doesn’t mean I have to wallow in it. I don’t need another story about how the government can’t find some of these kids or their parents; what I want to know is what’s being done about it. So I’m trimming my interactions in Facebook to either those I’ll learn from and enjoy, or those I hope to learn from even though I might not enjoy it. There’s no longer any time to read folks bitching about yet another example of the same old thing without suggesting a viable remedy. I don’t care what Donald Trump tweeted this morning. He’ll tweet something even more offensive tomorrow. The time I spend being outraged could be more profitably spent interacting with those who are actually willing and able to do something about it. Elected representatives. The ACLU. The Southern Poverty Law Center. The Beloved Spouse and I went to the immigration rally last week and I plan to counter-protest the White Civil Rights rally next month. Energy breeds energy, and I’m tired of letting bad news flow over me like the overflow from a backed-up sewer. It’s time I pushed back in some way.

Then I’ll be ready to write.

(Afterword: I have begun a short story since the first draft of this post was written. So, progress.)

Friday, July 6, 2018

Stuck in the Middle, Guest Post by Sam Wiebe

Sam Wiebe is the author of the Vancouver crime novel, Cut You Down, Invisible Dead, and Last of the Independents. Wiebe's short stories have appeared in Thuglit, Spinetingler, and subTerrain, and he was the 2016 Vancouver Public Library Writer in Residence. He lives in Vancouver.


That’s from Sam’s website bio. It’s accurate, as far as it goes. What it doesn’t tell you is how Sam has won awards and may well be the tip of the spear that brings private investigators back to their deserved position at the apex of crime fiction. Sam didn’t just stumble onto this. He’s as thoughtful about the craft as any writer I know, so I was delighted when he agreed to be this week’s guest poster.

One more thing few people know about Sam: Even though he’s from Vancouver, he has an
affinity for hush puppies. (Not the shoes, dumbass. The food.) Find some from Claude Cooper’s and Sam will follow you anywhere.

*  *  *  *  *  *  *  *
Stuck in the Middle

“If you want to write commercially, abandon pretense and go for the throat.
If your field is literature don’t worry about the market.”
Jack McClelland, shared to me on Facebook via John McFetridge

I’ve been thinking about this quote a lot lately, as I try to figure out where my career is going.

I’m lucky. I’ve written only the books I wanted to, and the response to them has been overwhelmingly positive. But I’m also not sure where to go from here.

There isn’t a lot of advice for the mid-career writer. Other than a couple columns—Chuck Wendig’s was pretty good—it’s not an area that attracts a lot of philosophizing. People want to know how to break in, or how to make millions overnight. Few people want to know how to sustain a writing career once you’ve breeched the walled city.

As Harlan Ellison wrote, “The trick is not to become a writer; it is to stay a writer. Day after day, year after year, book after book.”

I didn’t know anything about the publishing world when I started. (Not much has changed.) It’s a problematic business, especially when success is measured by two things which might not help, and may actually hinder, a sustained writing career: giant advances and first week sales. It’s a business that moves slowly, when it moves at all, and a business in which writers are not often ‘looped in’ with marketing and publishing decisions that affect their fates. (There are several columns to be written on these topics, by people much smarter than I am.)

To go back to the McClelland quote: I’ve never worried about the market, but the genre I write in is commercial to some extent. I think of myself sometimes as being in the middle, between someone writing just for themselves and just for an audience. It comes back to the advice of “write the book you want to read.”

The middle is a dangerous place to be, career-wise. Your work is in market competition with books written for no other reason than to sell. On the other hand, as a genre writer, you’re shut out of a lot of the protections and awards that gild the careers of “literary” writers. You have to make your own opportunities, but at the same time, you’re writing something you care about. Any business success serves only to sustain a writing career so you can write more things you care about with fewer distractions.

Writing comes first, business second, but the distance between those isn’t as big as I’d once believed, and they’re interrelated in ways I’m only now appreciating.

Anyway, there’s no conclusion to this, no, “And here’s where I learned sales don’t matter…” We all have books to write and bills to pay, and I love to see conversations about doing both.

(Editor’s Note: Sam has expressed things here I’ve thought quite a bit about myself. Expect to see more on this topic from him and me in the near future.)

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Favorite Reads in May and June

Beast of Burden, Ray Banks. Banks is one of the writers that forces me to look for ways to be sure they don’t fall through the cracks of a busy life. I’ve never been disappointed in anything he’s written. In fact, I’m always pleasantly surprised, even though my expectations are routinely high. Beast of Burden is the fourth and last of the Cal Innis PI books. Not that Cal is really a PI. He tries to be. Sometimes. Thing is, Cal is too tied to his history to break away and do much for himself. It’s going to undo him someday, though not likely for the right reason. That’s cryptic, even for me, but this one has a twist in the end I don’t even want to make you look forward to, let alone spoil. Banks is the George Higgins of the UK, writing dialog that carries his story in ways no one else would think of. It may take a while for an American to fall into the flow of the slang, but once you do few writers can wrap you up in their world better than Banks.

Playing Through the Whistle. S. L. Price. A non-fiction account of the rise and fall of Aliquippa, PA, as seen through the prism of its high school sports teams, especially football. Even in its heyday Aliquippa never had 40,000 residents; now the population is less than half that. Still the town cranks out top rate NFL players that run from Mike Ditka through Tony Dorsett to Darrell Revis and beyond. The original Jones & Laughlin mills ran for seven-and-a-half miles along the Ohio River west of Pittsburgh. (Think about that for a minute: seven and a half miles. A straight line west to east across Manhattan Island through Central Park is less than two.) The mills are gone for all intents and purpose, but the town lives on. Price is not a native but has the perfect combination of perspective and love for the community to tell this story as few can. Penns River is not Aliquippa—things are actually better in Penns River—but it could have been had I been born 40 miles farther west. Playing Through the Whistle deserves every accolade it’s earned.

Nobody’s Fool. Richard Russo. Been a while since I read any Russo, so I returned to where I started. Most people are aware of the story because of the movie where Paul Newman plays the hapless Sully, who couldn’t catch a break if it floated down to him tied to a parachute, and doesn’t really want to. Towns like North Bath and Aliquippa and Penns River are full of Sullys, outlaws in their own ways without being criminal and whose ration of don’t give a shit has reached self-defeating levels. Russo shows Sully as an asshole who doesn’t mean anything by it, not knowing when to stop teasing his friend Rub and stealing the same snow blower multiple times. It’s a leisurely stroll through several weeks of life in a dying town that’s still lively enough to remain entertaining throughout.