Thursday, May 30, 2019


The advent of flash fiction has been a godsend for that part of me that prefers the kill to chasing a quicksilver fox, the visceral capture that eludes the academy poet.

At first thought one might think short is simple and simple is easy, and this may be so for some. Even many. But, as in most art forms, the occasional genius brings surprise to the party. Brilliance that beacons through eons of comfortable fog and expectation.

Such is Alligators at Night, a collection of seventy-two quickies that pierce the heart and the funnybone—sometimes within a word or two, sometimes in the title alone. Meg Pokrass is celebrated among her flash-fiction peers for her deft hand arousing glee in the darkness and sober reflection before laughter’s quite finished its happy sputter.

You have not yet cried or threatened to leave,” we learn in the title story, “and you have not yet been quieted by your husband with his body half-asleep and given up the fight.”

But that comes soon after the opening, when she explains the odd title, when life seemed fine, its quirky behavior carrying a tender poignancy:

You remember when you lived in Florida briefly, walking to the store with your husband in the middle of the night. You remember the sound of alligators crooning like deranged, nocturnal cows, all the way to the Seven-Eleven, from each side of the highway. You remember thinking that they must regularly sing to people on their way to the Seven-Eleven— mostly a welcome sound, because there is a three-hour walk there, and a three hour walk home, and the night sky is so velvety in the summer, and the singing alligators are like jazz. It’s like you’re in a jazz club, but walking, outside.

Funny title? How about Dismount? I guess that depends on connotation. Is the story funny? It gives sequin flashes of mirth, but then this line:She imagined heaven an aquamarine deep swimming pool where she could cry underwater and nobody would know.”

The instantaneous back and forth between twinkle and anguish give Pokrass a dangerous edge, like a cat purring when its belly’s scratched switching in a blink to jungle mode, all teeth and claws. A lightness of style pulls us into a queenly Dorothy Parker mind where nothing ameliorates the keenest and meanest of observations. Her delivery is sly, indirect, and her cuts frequently self-inflict. In Cutlery she tells us her lover has an obsession with kitchen knives. “We were each part of an intricate and delicate habitat, and we had our own ways of surviving. He had his butter knives. I had my fantasies of finding a man who would find me.” Ouch.

Her wit is not all she displays in these jewels from a mind you sense lets nothing get past, that once caught by her perception it’s a permanent acquisition. These sparks of insight and wonder are grist for the mill of an accomplished wordsmith, bubbling from a vast and deep memory seemingly on a whim into carefully wrought, playful sentences that showcase them with dazzle and shimmer. “He slices a sleepy-bear smile my way,” she reveals in The Landlord, “and my mouth stretches sideways and upward like a circus trick.”

Johan is looking at me with a smile that stretches around his smile lines,” we learn in Probably I’ll Marry You. “He has a cute, rat-like face. Rats are very intelligent animals.”

Some of you may be curious about length. Just how long are these “flash” stories? Am I misleading you with fetching quotes? Luring you into a collection of ponderous stories so long you have to break from an engaging narrative to pee or get another beer or glass of wine, and then be distracted by something else, and when finally you get back to the story you’ve forgotten what in hell it’s about? Would you like an example of a typical story right here, right now? Can I give you one without violating the copyright rigidities designed to protect author and publisher from pirating? Well, dammit, I’m no pirate, and if Meg Pokrass can be daringly whimsical, so can I. Here’s an entire story from the collection Alligators at Night:

Man Against Nature

I stand near the boiling stockpot warming my fingers while the chicken and vegetables melt, the smell making our apartment strong. Canned wind howls from the TV screen in the living room, emitting a cool glow. He loves man-against-nature shows which are actually a buff-looking male model talking to himself (and his hidden film crew) before lunch which is probably catered sushi. I serve him the fresh broth on a lockable tray, move his legs from couch to the floor, bend my knees to avoid using my back. He drinks soup with a special deep spoon— and though his fingers tremble, they are able to grasp. I sit with him, cheek against his warm shoulder, watching the man trapped between two icy mountain ranges build a fire out of sticks.

Do you trust me now? An entire story you just read in the time it took your heart to beat, what, ten, fifteen times? Three or four natural breaths. Even if you had to pee like a racehorse you could have made it through this amazing piece before trotting off to the throne. And then remembered it when you got back. Irony? O lort, I believe I failed to mention irony up above, but in this piece alone, in Man Against Nature, there’s enough irony to put Olympic zip into the most anemic reader (metaphorically speaking, of course). I don’t believe Pokrass can write more than five or six words in sequence without slipping in an ironic twist or three. And some of the other concepts de rigueur among the popular literati—subtext, layers, nuance, resonance, MFA approved, etc. It’s all there. All of it, packaged in hot little bundles of blinding brilliance.
Meg Pokrass

What’s that? You want another taste? A little encore of sorts? Well, I can’t say I blame you. Okay, so here’s another line from Probably I’ll Marry You:My ex-husband was a workhorse, never lost a job. Kept his pants real nice. Had a Grecian nose. The woman my husband left me for has a piggish, squashed-in nose. I have two arms, and my nose is terrific.”

The link at the bottom is to a collective blogging feature called Friday’s Forgotten Books. I put the link there because this essay is my contribution for this week. Alligators at Night is not a forgotten book. It came out last year, but I’m including it as an introduction to readers for whom flash fiction is so new a concept it could easily be overlooked in favor of more traditional fiction forms. I don’t want to have to come back here in ten years or so and treat Alligators at Night as a bonafide forgotten book. Please don’t let that happen!

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Thursday, May 23, 2019

BAFFLED IN BOSTON – Gary Provost (Stephen Humphrey Bogart’s writing coach)

Baffled in Boston was my prize for slogging through two rather awful—one really rather awful—melodramatic crime/romance novels by Stephen Humphrey Bogart, scion of Hollywood's most iconic lovebirds. Besides alliteration, the only Bogie/Bacall/Baffled link I found in my several-day read-a-thon was the late Gary Provost, author of Baffled and presumed ghost-writer of Play It Again and The Remake: As Time Goes By, both titles alluding to an unforgettable scene in Bogie's classic film, Casablanca. Provost was a novelist, author of true-crime and how-to-write books, and a popular writing coach whom Stephen Bogart credits with assisting in the memoir Bogart: In Search of My Father, published in 1995. It was the same year Provost died, and the same year Play It Again came out—with only Bogart’s name on the cover. As Time Goes By followed two years later.
My plan was to compare Stephen Bogart's two novels with one of Provost's for clues that Bogart's were ghosted or that maybe he had some less visible help with his fiction, at least with the first novel. My conclusion: There's no chance Provost or likely any other pro wrote these novels. They're too green. Dialogue stiff and overdone, and way too much telling instead of showing. Frantic sex scenes like those in pulp magazines of the ‘50s. The kind of callow crap youngsters of my ilk were reading and trying to imitate back then. On the positive side, I have a hunch Provost helped plot and shape Play It Again. The technique is not new, but it’s an effective suspense builder—italicized sections from the serial killer's POV giving us insight "RJ Brooks," the PI protagonist, doesn't have. The first murder victim is RJ’s mother, the world-famous movie queen obviously meant to be Stephen Bogart’s mother, Lauren Bacall. His father, whom we know was Humphrey Bogart, who died when Stephen was eight, appears only in memories of characters who see and hear him in the spitting-image face and voice of his son. Essentially it seems Stephen Bogart simply changed names and added fictional circumstances for the novels.

Same basic cast and same craft flaws for RJ’s later adventure, but with a silly, meandering plot and a nauseating romance between RJ and a TV producer that began in the first novel and curdles into soap-opera melodrama in The Remake. I did get one hearty laugh the author most likely did not anticipate. The serial murderer is one of several characters, including RJ, who vehemently oppose the tawdry remaking of Casablanca (called As Time Goes By in the novel). RJ is horrified that the lead characters will be a brainless musclebound actor noted for playing a lifeguard on TV, paired with a porn star known mostly for roles she’s played nude on her back. RJ spouts sentimental outrage that the memories of his father and mother, who starred in the original movie, would be outrageously cheapened by this ripoff.
He’s a leading suspect in the murders, of course, which means it’s pretty much up to him to find the real murderer. One of the suspects puts out a Hollywood-insider magazine, where he has displayed his murderous rage in print. “‘As Time Goes By means something, Brooks.’ the wheelchair-bound editor tells RJ. ‘Something special, pure, good. Not just to me, but to all of us, our whole culture. Millions of people, all around the world. Because it stood for something. It was a rallying cry for the last great moral battleground—and the good guys won. It was important, goddammit—maybe one of five or six movies in history that are really important.’
He slapped his hand on the tray. It was a feeble slap, but if the intention behind it counted for anything, it would have brought the building down. ‘And now those goddamned soulless leeches want to sodomize it! Like putting a Nike swoosh on the Pieta, for Christ’s sake! Can’t anybody else see that? See that it’s wrong, beyond wrong, it’s actually EVIL!’”
Okay, Casablanca did win three Oscars, including best picture, but...
My out-loud laugh came before I reached the editor’s tirade, as I tried to imagine sultry sassy Bacall doing Ingrid Bergman’s peerless scorching of Bogie’s cynical heart, quietly wooing Dooley Wilson to “Play it, Sam. Play As Time Goes By.” Bacall would’ve been sitting on the piano, her husky voice caressing the words, shapely leg swinging, and laughing eyes batting at a Bogie so newly smitten he’d have pushed a peanut across the floor with his nose to prove how forgiving he was of whatever little misunderstanding they’d had...when? Paris? Oh hahaha...ce n'est rien !

RJ in both novels can’t settle on being a tough guy or melting at the thought of Casey Wingate, who treats him like a stooge except when she suddenly starts tearing his clothes off and biting his neck. Here he is in the second novel, giving us his Bogie sneer: “He liked the fact that all New Yorkers are predators. It was why he lived here. He’d grown up with the sun-tanned, veggie-loving mood-ring kissers on the West Coast, and he would just as soon take the knife in the front, New York style.” Okay, sounds like something the old man might have said in a movie. Moments later, though, he’s begrudging media crews trying to take advantage of his bloodline and resemblance to his famous dad: “Wouldn’t say anything to anybody with a press pass. Except Casey Wingate, of course. Casey. He sighed just thinking about her.” What? Sighing? A Bogart male? Oh dear. Well, we can safely assume if anyone helped Stephen Bogart with this book it sure as shootin’ wasn’t Norman Mailer.
 Bacall, Bogie, and Baby Bogie
Now then I could see Mailer lending a line or two to the first one, Play It Sam, such as the following media-baiting scene sans Ms. Wingate: “With a block to go he’d had enough. He stopped walking and held up a hand for quiet. ‘Ladies and gentlemen! Please, just a moment, ladies and gentlemen!’ They didn’t exactly get quiet, but they got quieter. When R.J. felt that all eyes were on him, he took a breath and looked squarely into the nearest camera. ‘Blow it out your asses,’ he said and turned to go.”
That’s my boy, I can hear Bogie lisp. Precisely the kind of breezy irreverence leavening Provost’s ill-fortuned-but-plucky protagonist of Baffled in Boston, which opens thusly: “On her way out the door my wife, Anne, said something about my choice of the freelance writing life being irresponsible, selfish, and unmanly. My unwillingness to wear a necktie was childish. My trips to Las Vegas were reckless. And most of her orgasms had been faked. Clearly, she was peeved. I was, she said, an utter failure. Also, she had fallen in love with another man, so she thought it would be best if she left me. It would turn out to be the second worst thing that happened that week.”
Marvelous beginning. I’ve read it five times already, and am tempted this instant to go back and savor it once again. Had I written it I’d be standing on some street corner in Manhattan right now belting it out to passersby, and not especially caring whether or not they dropped any bread in the hat at my feet. Hell, I’d sell my pet skink to the Gypsies if they’d align the stars to enable me to write a paragraph half as good. I’m beginning to think this is how Stephen Humphrey Bogart tried to learn to write fiction, reading incredibly boffo paragraphs by Gary Provost over and over, and then trying something similar. And failing--not quite miserably, but badly enough that his imitations stand out like nipples through a wet T-shirt.
But back to Baffled, a clever, crafty, murder mystery, swiftly paced with memorable characters, snappy dialogue, and believable suspense. It’s premised on the suspicious death of Molly Collins, world-famous Boston advice columnist, who was a dear friend of Jeff “Scotty” Scotland, the aforementioned failed freelance writer. Scotty is convinced the driver who ran Molly down on a Boston street did so deliberately. The paper she worked for was being sold to a Rupert Murdoch-type, profit-hungry tycoon with a reputation for buying reputable newspapers and stripping them of their journalistic scruples. The new owner is running a national contest to pick Molly's successor. Scotty believes this is somehow connected to her murder.
As with Stephen Bogart’s two novels, real life has a way of poking its head through the thin veneer of fiction. Bogart’s celebrated parents and his own problems handling the celebrity they bequeathed to him give his writing a cachet and voyeuristic allure of the sort that can make publishers drool. Baffled in Boston’s backstory is less prominent. Its protagonist, of course, is a mirror of its author. Provost, who had been dead a year when the book came out. In retrospect it appears Provost revealed, unwittingly one suspects, some prescience that brings a sad note to an otherwise sweet romp of a mystery:I was in Dr. Lewis’s office,” Scotty tells us, “because I had become terrified about my health. My heart seemed to beat too often. My fingers trembled over the keyboard on my word processor. And often I felt as if a load of laundry had been stuffed into my chest cavity.”
This brief biographical sketch appears on Provost’s Web page:
Before the heart attack snatched him from the publishing world, Gary had sold 22 (fiction and nonfiction) books to major publishing houses. He’d been dubbed “The Dustin Hoffman of writing” for his versatility, and he’d sold books in most every genre: How-To texts for writers. True-Crime. YA novels. Satire. Mystery. Celebrity Biography. Business. Sports. Romance. Cooking.
Anything writing-related, Gary could do. He was an editor, book doctor, consultant to business, ghost-writer. And, out of a field of 12,000 applicants, he was one of only seven finalists in the Chicago Sun-Times’ search to replace advice columnist, Ann Landers.
Gary Provost

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Thursday, May 16, 2019

THE LAST SUPPER – Charles McCarry

In the course of the first several paragraphs of The Last Supper the author, Charles McCarry, managed to seduce me, enrage me, and force me to read an overlong, complicated novel of infuriating murders, spies, lust, and tragic romance. I suppose that last adjective is redundant, as all romance ultimately leads to tragedy. Doesn’t it. And yet we let it seduce us and lead us to its destined, inescapable, shattering disillusionment. Every time. Don’t we. Meanwhile, back to those first several paragraphs.
We meet Molly Benson and Paul, her lover, who, two years after the start of their affair, has only recently told her he is a spy. She’d been wondering about his odd absences, unexplained silences, remote behavior when not with her in bed, and that they’re living in a “safe house.” Right away I know she’s dumb. But I’ve fallen for her anyway, as she is unimaginably beautiful, sexy, sweet, and loving. Paul never says goodbye when he leaves her, which he does within a paragraph, heading to Vietnam, he tells her. He points out a man across the street, assuring her the man is there to keep an eye out for her. He tells her to be careful, gives her an envelope containing ten-thousand dollars, and heads off to the airport, without, of course, saying goodbye. So now I’m alone with Molly, oh boy. But, of course, she has no intention of staying put. She’s going to the airport to see her lover off. She gets dressed, goes out, and hails a taxi. As she heads across the street to the taxi, a car parked nearby shoots out from the curb, runs her down, and kills her instantly. She was “flyswatted,” as we soon learn is what spies call their favorite method of assassination.
I’m momentarily devastated. But disgust quickly intervenes that here we go again—the age-old movie cliché where the victim freezes, staring stupidly at the vehicle that’s obviously going to run them down, sometimes at the last second running straight ahead in front of the vehicle instead of leaping to one side. Protagonists always leap, sanely and safely, to one side, but victims always let themselves get hit. I’M SICK TO DEATH OF IT! WHY IN HELL CAN’T MOVIE DIRECTORS AND NOVELISTS SEE HOW STUPID THIS IS???
Sorry. I’m okay. Breathing normally again. But it happens a couple more times in The Last Supper, and this by a superb novelist who actually spent some time as a CIA deep-cover field agent, we are told. I’d like to think some stupid desk-bound editor’s to blame for these irritating fact, for the sake of my blood pressure, this is precisely what I’m going to think, blaming the idiot editor for diminishing my regard for the beautiful, delicious, impetuous, sweetly naïve, dumb Molly Benson.

Only much later, after finishing this multi-generational spy novel (which rings a little of Norman Mailer’s Harlot’s Ghost) did it become clear to me Molly’s mysterious, never-say-goodbye spy lover, Paul Christopher, is the star of McCarry’s ten-novel Christopher family spy series that had been recommended to me by blogging friend Tracy K of Bitter Tea & Mystery. The most popular and famous of this series is The Tears of Autumn, in which Paul Christopher investigates JFK’s assassination, apparently finding plausible evidence the Dallas tragedy was retribution for the assassination of South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem and his two brothers. Tracy K says Tears of Autumn is her favorite, and Brendan Bernard said in LA Weekly, "It’s tempting to say that Charles McCarry’s The Tears of Autumn is the greatest espionage novel ever written by an American, if only because it’s hard to conceive of one that could possibly be better. But since no one can claim to have read every America espionage novel ever written, let’s just say that The Tears of Autumn is a perfect spy novel, and that its hero, Paul Christopher, should by all rights be known the world over as the thinking man’s James Bond — and woman’s too."
The jury’s still out for me on Tears, as I feel a tad saturated right now with Christophers, and, altho I can’t quite put my finger on why, I’m just not ready right now to revisit the Dallas thing once again. There’ve been too many conspiracy theories with seemingly conclusive proof, and persuasive debunkings of that proof, as well. It’s the biggest crime mystery of the century, and likely will remain a mystery for as long as this planet can sustain human life.
As to The Last Supper, the plot is far too complex for me to try doing justice to it in a few sentences. Click on the hyperlinked title in my first paragraph, which will take you to the book’s Amazon page. There you will find the publisher’s synopsis, which will give you the gist without any spoilers. Please don’t think I’m being sarcastic, in light of what may seem to some a spoiler at the top of this review. Molly Benson’s flyswatting is merely a teaser, in my opinion, the narrative never revisits her as anything but a passing reference henceforth. Other characters and their relationships weave in and out as the novel shifts back and forth in time and place. It’s a style McCarry is said to employ in all of the Christopher novels.
McCarry’s writing has been compared by professional critics with that of British spy novelist John le Carré. I’ve read several le Carré novels, and enjoyed them all. Comparing just Last Supper with them, I would say le Carré’s characters are more interesting. I agree with some critics that Christopher and his father are too good, in every way, to be believable as real men. Except for Molly Benson, the female characters are more natural and engaging. My favorite supporting character is Paul Christopher’s colorful friend, mentor, and master spy, Barnabas Wolkowitz. Unforgettable.
McCarry’s writing is compelling. Both the principal Christophers—father and son—are published poets, and examples of their lyricism are included in the narrative. Ironic humor is ever present, threading thru the convoluted intertwining stories. McCarry, describing life on the German island of Rügen, where Paul’s young bachelor father has recently met Lori, the woman he would marry, tells us that “Once again, the Germans were happy; the whole country seemed to exist in a daze of patriotic joy. In the beech forests...youths marched under party banners, shattering the quiet with their singing. On weekends, the full-throated sound of them came through the open windows at Berwick.
“‘Government by operetta,’ Lori said; ‘the Germans have a weakness for it.’”

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]

Thursday, May 9, 2019

NEW HOPE FOR THE DEAD – Charles Willeford

Were Hoke Moseley a cop in the rural South it could be said of him, Thet boy’s inna heapa trouble, son (the “son” thrown in just for its sound). The list of his troubles is so long I’m liable to forget one or two, or more, but I’ll start with the most obvious: he’s a homicide sergeant in Miami living in a dump hotel outside his department’s jurisdiction. As he tells his two teenage daughters, who’ve dropped in unexpectedly on him (another of his troubles), “South Beach is now a slum, and it’s a high-crime area, so I don’t want you girls to leave the hotel by yourselves. If you had a doll, and you left it out overnight on the front porch of the hotel, it would probably be raped when you found it in the morning.”
He has two weeks to find a permanent domicile within the jurisdiction, or risk losing his job. Problems three and four are directly related in a cause/effect way. He’s living in the dump hotel because he has to send every other monthly paycheck to his ex, which doesn’t leave him enough to afford a place in the city. The daughters’ arrival removes the initial financial burden of the divorce, but now he must find a place suitable for himself and the girls and Ellita Sanchez, his new unmarried Cuban partner whose father has kicked her out of the family home after learning she was pregnant (not by Hoke—hes smarter than that). And let us not forget, Hoke and Sanchez and his former partner, Bill Henderson, have murders to solve. Lots of them.
Most immediately for Hoke and Ellita is the death of a young junkie of an apparent overdose of high-quality heroin. Hoke suspects foul play, however, plus he’s taken with the junkie’s attractive and flirtatious stepmother. While probing into the death, and weighing the fact he hasn’t had sex in four months, he cautiously proceeds to woo the woman. Meanwhile, there are fifty cold homicides the trio has been given two months to solve. Take a moment, please, to absorb the implications of this phenomenon.

Fifty cold cases (providing the novel’s title, New Hope for the Dead). The case files were compiled by Major Willie Brownley, who hopes cracking a few of these old murders will help elevate him to one of eight colonelcies the new police chief says he wants to create in lieu of pay increases. One might think Brownley’s a stereotypical administrative jerk for harboring this ambition, but he’s really a pretty good boss. He’s the department’s first black major, and he figures this could be his last chance for higher rank before retirement. “I didn’t become the Homicide chief because I was a detective,” he tells them, after assuring them he trusts their judgment as to which of the old cases they have the best chance of solving. “I’m an administrator, and I was promoted for my administrative ability. It didn’t hurt that I was black, either, but I wouldn’t have kept my rank if I couldn’t do the work.
It seems to me, if we can solve some of these cold cases, it’ll make our division and the entire department look even better than it is. And if that happens, they’ll have to make at least one of those new colonels a black man. What I want is one of those silver eagles and another gold stripe on my sleeve.”
The team gets off to a great start, making progress on two of the cases within a couple days. The first, when Henderson on his way to lunch spots the suspect known as Capt. Midnight. The second when Sanchez interviews a woman who claimed to have seen a girl whose bloody clothing was found in a field some three years earlier. The witness had changed her story with the male detective trying to interview her at the time, and was written off as a “man hater.”
This is the second of the Hoke Moseley series I’ve read. I’m hoping to read the rest of them in sequence. I am totally hooked on the character and on author Charles Willeford’s droll, yet realistic voice. I was enormously impressed by Willeford in my review of the first in the series, Miami Blues, and see no need to restate the kudos here, although I can quote a line or two from novelist James Lee Burke’s introduction to New Hope for the Dead. The two became friends while teaching at Miami-Dade Community College:
Early on I became aware of his tremendous sense of humor, his wit, and his ability to tell wonderful stories. But as I came to know Charles better, I also began to realize his great reservoir of humanity, his goodwill, his loyalty to his friends, and his modesty as a man, an artist, and a decorated soldier.
He was one of the most extraordinary men I ever knew. He literally lived history. He rode the rods when he was fifteen, lived in hobo jungles, boxed as a club fighter, fought roosters, raised horses, enlisted in the cavalry when he was sixteen, drove a tank in the worst battles of the Bulge, won the Croix de Guerre, the Purple Heart, and the Silver Star.”
I would be remiss not to add this line from the New York Times Review of Books: “If you are looking for a master’s insight into the humid decadence of South Florida and its polyglot tribes, nobody does that as well as Mr. Willeford.” After two novels now, and this, I’ve no desire to visit any part of Miami. Ever.
What I find most seductive about Willeford’s writing is his attention to detail. I don’t mean the kind of monotonous descriptions of furniture and buildings and landscapes and clothing and such that seems de rigueur for novelists these days, following the common dictum that it’s holier to show than merely to tell. Not saying Willeford skimps on these details. Not at all. I definitely felt I’d been plunged into “the humid decadence of South Florida and its polyglot tribes.” Even turned on the A/C in my apartment in case some of that South Florida mugginess happened to migrate north while I was reading about it. Nope. There’s enough of that de rigueur detail in the two Hoke Moseley adventures I’ve read thus far, enough to stimulate my imagination to fill in the blanks. What I mean by “seductive” detail, is his depiction of the ordinary things his characters do that most novelists glide over in the interest, I suppose, of keeping up a narrative tempo. The kind of pace The Village Voice says is “so relentless, words practically fly off the page.” I’d say that’s a tad over the top. The words don’t “fly,” but they move along without getting bogged down in literary correctness. Here’s an example that doesn’t seem like much, but left my jaw agape:
The waiter brought the conch chowder and the oysters on a tray. He also gave them silverware, wrapped in paper napkins. He placed Loretta’s wine spritzer in front of her. Hoke poured the last of the beer into his glass and topped it off with a head from the fresh pitcher. The waiter put the empty pitcher on his tray.
This comes during one of the most suspenseful scenes in the novel. It’s a perfect glance away from the building tension, focusing on the simple mechanics of service in a restaurant. We’re not distracted by the brand of beer or wine spritzer or how the waiter is dressed or looked. Non-essentials, those. It’s the way I imagine Hemingway might have portrayed the little scene, with us knowing all the while the deadly potential lurking nearby, perhaps only seconds away. “The waiter put the empty pitcher on his tray.” A cinematic moment. Extreme closeup on the pitcher, the waiter’s hand, and then the tray. All the while the tick tick tick of something we know is coming.
Genius, I would say. But maybe I’m just easy.

[Find more Friday's Forgotten Books links at Todd Mason's amazingly eclectic blog]