Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Donald Westlake lives on in Memory

Those of you who spend as much nose-to-monitor, laptop-warming-lap time as I do may have seen this elsewhere already, but it's such good news that it's worth sharing nonetheless: Charles Ardai, publisher of Hard Case Crime, put out word over the weekend that he is going to publish a previously unknown Donald E. Westlake novel, titled
Memory, next April. The novel, writes Ardai,
is the story of a man who suffers an assault (after being caught in bed with another man's wife) and wakes up in a hospital bed suffering from a peculiar form of brain damage that doesn't make him unable to function but does make it hard for him to form new memories or retain old ones. Stuck far from home (and struggling even to remember where home used to be), paranoid about the attentions of the police, and desperate to reconstruct his lost life, Paul Cole sets out on an extraordinary private investigation: a missing persons case in which he himself is the missing person.
It's an explicitly existential novel, and a long one, and I think these were the reasons his then literary agent advised him to shelve it and concentrate instead on the more commercial sorts of crime fiction he was becoming known for.
According to Ardai, Lawrence Block, who passed on the manuscript with the blessing of Westlake's widow, had urged his friend to send the book out for publication many times over the years, but Westlake never got around to it; the opening chapter is available at the Hard Case Crime site, if you want to judge the book's quality for yourself.

Admittedly, for most of us (or maybe all of us except Ethan Iverson?), there was still plenty of Westlake left to read even before the discovery of Memory. The thought of an addition to the canon is exciting nonetheless, especially if it's as much a departure for Westlake as Ardai suggests; given how many approaches, how many variations on themes Westlake attempted over his career, exploring a new one will surely be a pleasure. And a writer who can immediately follow a stripped, yet rhythmic passage like this--
After the show, they went back to the hotel room, and to bed, for the seventeenth time in three weeks. He had chosen her because, being on the road with him, she was handy; and additionally because she was married, had already clipped the wings of one male, and could therefore demand nothing more from him than he was willing to give. Why she had chosen him he neither knew nor cared.
--with a description as straightforward, yet fine-tuned as this--
clench-faced sweaty blindness of physical passion
--is worth following almost anywhere he chooses to go.

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