31 08 2008

This is the land of bullshit. If you don’t believe me watch the talking heads on TV or listen to AM talk radio, or open your internal eye and observe the cloaca of advertising dreck that pours into your unconscious every day.

Perhaps it could not be otherwise. Our dreckmeisters are the heirs of P. T. Barnum, ten thousand backwoods evangelists, and the deep vein of celtic blarney that permeates at least the Southern part of our nation. The glib flower in a place that has no inherited culture because it is too new, big, diverse, and greedy to have created one of its own.

Creative writers usually love to tell their stories in beautiful language, but some in the US have believed that there is so little room among the vast piles of bullshit for their gardens of verbal beauty that they have elected instead to go the “just the facts, ma’am” route. James T. Farrell, e. e. cummings, and Earnest Hemingway come to mind.

One such writer of the recent past has been Charles Willeford. In his series of detective novels from the 1980s Miami Blues, New Hope for the Dead , Sideswipe, and The Way We Die Now , he showed what could be done with unadorned language. In these highly successful semi-police procedural novels set in Miami and its environs, Willeford pits his redneck hero Hoke Moseley against some of the most bizarre criminals and situations imaginable.

And he does this in a style that succeeds in Earnest Hemingway’s program of stripping down narrative language better than Hemingway ever did. in Hemingway’s work there is always a sense of the craftsman behind the character, self-consciously paring away language according to his stylistic ideology. Willeford just tells his story in language anyone can follow, period. The result is that most elusive species of novel, the truly inescapable page turner. Literally, you can’t put it down. You are as fully mesmerized by this apparently effortless but impeccably effective flow of narrative as a kid in a frontier hut 200 years ago listening to his uncle the masterful story teller.

The emphasis in these novels is on event and action, and the events and actions are so surprising, yet predictable once the characters are fully known, that hearing them told is deeply satisfying. Little is said about how Hoke Moseley feels about all this as it unfolds, so you’re free to imagine that part. Guess what! You will inevitable have him feel what you would feel in his situation.

And this is why this series of novels works so well. Charles Willeford’s essentially invisible prose seduces you to become another person, one who is as screwed up as you, whose life is as disarrayed as yours, who has as many discreditable desires as you, but who just happens to be much smarter than you, and many times as brave.

Miami Blues
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984.
The first of the crime novels featuring Hoke Moseley. Willeford’s original title was Kiss Your Ass Good-Bye.

New Hope for the Dead
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1985.
The second Hoke Moseley novel.

New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1987.
The third Hoke Moseley novel.

The Way We Die Now
New York: Random House, 1988.
The fourth Hoke Moseley novel, released just a few days before his death.




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