Sunday, January 11, 2009

Gun work

The reviews I've read of Gun Work by David J. Schow seem to emphasize how hard it is, and it certainly is not all fun and games. I mean, not to spoil too much, but it does have luchadores!

The first time I laughed was on page thirty-two, there's a passage, "Barney tried never to judge. What was that line about walking a mile in another man's shoes? Oh yeah: By the time he figures out you've screwed him over, you're a mile away, and you've got his shoes."

The line was more important than the laugh, it was at the time of reading it, and becomes increasingly so as the book goes on. Frankly, I think more than many of the other Hard Case Crime books, I suspect this reads closer to a modern audience to how the original hard boiled stories and films noir would have played to the readers and audiences of their day. Not because one can't recognize the integrity of the works themselves, but all of us did grow up with them as cliché and can't always grasp what their full impact would have been, no matter how we might wish to.

I remember at the time I was writing "Hot Coffee, Warm Donuts, Cold Blood" (my white trash "Macbeth" that was rendered irrelevant by Scotland, PA for better or worse), I read Witches and Jesuits: Shakespeare's Macbeth by Gary Wills. It's an interesting book and brings up important points regarding how the play would have been regarded by an audience for which the Gunpowder Plot was a current event. Think how the presence or a reference to a box knife would play differently to an audience in the summer of 2001 than it would for an audience in the winter of 2001 and how it will play entirely differently for an audience fifty, a hundred and five-hundred years from now.

More than anything it is these ways that I think none of us can fully appreciate what it was like to read or watch those at the time. Many references will pass us by, yes, even to those of us well versed in the history and pop culture of the time. Other references we may "get" the reference, but it wouldn't have the visceral feeling as it would to someone at the time. Not only the box knife, but, say, Paris Hilton. Some people can get really pissed off that she's alive. Some get excited or amused or something. Fifty, a hundred and five-hundred years from now she won't likely register any emotion from people, but just be the answer to a trivia question, an historical footnote or completely forgotten.

As such, we are incapable of having the same experience reading The Dain Curse or watching Out of the Past that a contemporary audience would have had. Which isn't to say you shouldn't read or watch them, because you really, really should. Nor am I trying to oversell the book by comparing it to Dashiell Hammett, my point is ultimately not primarily qualitative, although I certainly enjoyed "Gun Work" a great deal, enough in fact that I'd like to see many more just like it, and hope Schow continues along the hard boiled/Hard Case line.


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