Recommended (Summer) Reading



Lisa Moore
318 p $29.95

                  In my comments to The Winnipeg Review about the value of summer reading lists, I spoke about discovering John D. McDonald’sTravis McGee novels when I was a teenager. A day later I made my first visit to McNally Robinson’s since my surgery and picked up a copy of Lisa Moore’s drug running adventure story, and it’s the first novel novel I’ve finished since before Christmas.  Five word sentences, two sentence paragraphs, clipped dialogue, and crisp plotting move this story at a pretty good clip, making it read shorter than the 300 plus pages it is. Yes, perfect for summer reading.                

 One of the characters speaks admiringly about the writing of Dashiell Hammet and Ernest Hemingway in the same breath, a clue to some of the narrative strategies, oh gosh, let’s just call it story-telling, in this palate cleanser of a novel, which feels more like Thomas McGuane to me, with some shades of Nathanael West in the early going.

More interestingly I think would be a comparison to Lynn Coady’s The Antagonist, or Moore’s previous novel February.  Caught, like these two novels, examines the nature and consequences of betrayal. In February  it is the greed, corruption and lack of training in the Ocean Ranger disaster, brought to a personal level by the loss of a husband. In Caught it is a very personal betrayal, with a wide range of justifications and rationalizations that make my skin crawl.

I hate it when bad things happen to good people, even in fiction. Sometimes I even have to stop reading for a while to brace myself for the unpleasantness I see is coming.  Not so in this case, and the best explanation I can find in the novel is that Slaney seeks out his own comeuppance. His tragic weakness is his willingness to trust coupled with a need for adventure. A bad combination for a drug runner, and an easy target to take the fall for those with no innocence to lose.

I don’t know about you, but I know several people in my generational cohort, who turned in their usually working-class dealers, or someone who was holding, to save their own middle-class butts. No saint, I enjoyed a joint as much as the next boomer, but I was a drinker, which had its own ethical and moral dilemmas.  Thank God I was never put in a situation where something I said landed someone in jail to save my own skin. This is one of the first novels I’ve read that so clearly illuminates how these decisions are made, or were in the 1970s, and how creepy the people are that make them.

His buddy Hearn who enlists him on this caper, is identified as an alcoholic, but possibly someone with mental illness that has taken leave of his senses and his family. He, you see, is in need of rescuing, even though his alcohol-fueled lack of judgment is why he needs to be, by the damsel that turns on Slaney. Touching, when Slaney gets out after decades in prison, that she has set money aside for him. He dries her tears on his shirt.  He forgives her, because “he had been formed by what they’d gone through back in’78. It had been the making of them. They had been brazen. Nothing that came after would ever hold that kind of abandon. He thought of that old word adventure.”

And what happens to Hearn? He gets to be an English professor, all we know, Slaney seeing Dr. Hearn’s name slid in the brass plate on his door in university, a door I doubt Slaney opens.  

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