Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Thanksgiving just isn't complete without a visit from Parker

The day before Thanksgiving was forever changed for me back in 2007, when I stopped at 57th Street Books on my lunch hour and picked up my first Parker novel, Ask the Parrot (2007) . . . which I spent the next five hours reading furiously. I've written before about that day and its aftermath, in which I got to help convince my employer, the University of Chicago Press, to bring the Parker series back into print, to both great sales and great acclaim. Next spring we'll publish the sixteenth through the eighteenth volumes in the series--including the elusive, brilliant Butcher's Moon--and, as Thanksgiving rolls around, I remain thankful that I've been able to be a part of introducing so many readers to Parker's violent, amoral oeuvre.

So today, in honor of Parker, and the unexpected gift that his creator, Donald E. Westlake, bestowed on me that Thanksgiving, I'll share a passage from another of Westlake's books, the strange, borderline brilliant Adios, Scheherazade (1970). Drawn from Westlake's own experience as a young writer-for-hire, the book is told from the point of view of a man who has been writing soulless, formulaic sex novels for a paycheck for too long; in ten chapters that are at times funny, at others distinctly uncomfortable, it tells the story of his disintegration--and, just maybe, re-integration and renewal.

The passage I want to share is one of those self-referential notes that the multi-pseudonymed Westlake loved to scatter through his work:
The movie I saw last night was called Point Blank, which could also be the title of my life, particularly if you reverse the order of the words, and it was about Lee Marvin being a gangster of some kind and the gangster syndicate owes him ninety-three thousand dollars and he wants it. The whole movie is about him trying to get his ninety-three thousand dollars. It was sort of spoiled for me because all the way through I kept thinking, Lee, what if you get the ninety-three thousand dollars? Do you think that'll make you happy? It won't. You'll just spend it, and then next month you'll need ninety-three thousand dollars more, and you'll have to go through all this shit all over again, and after a while you'll just give up and move to San Francisco and jump in the bay, because San Francisco has the highest suicide rate in the nation, and I know why. It's because when people are desperate they move somewhere else, and because the sun goes from east to west so do people, and eventually they wind up in Los Angeles, where they either go crazy or move to San Francisco. If they go crazy they can live in Los Angeles for the rest of their lives, but if they go to San Francisco there's no place to go after that, the only thing westward is the ocean, so plunk they go. So forget the ninety-three thousand dollars, Lee, you and me and all the rest of us we're just rats in a maze, the only thing to do is stop the world I want to get off. Therefore, Lee, go to San Francisco, go directly to San Francisco, do not pass Go, do not collect ninety-three thousand dollars.
Point Blank, you'll remember, is what the John Boorman movie of Westlake's first Parker novel, The Hunter, was titled.

What Parker fan hasn't wondered the same thing about Parker? Someday the heists have to end, and then what? Parker's associate Handy McKay retired to Presque Isle, Maine, but can any of us imagine that for Parker? As the Restless Kind wondered last week, "Where do these guys end up? What and who are they in 2010 and what have they left in their wake?"

I like to think that retirement is still ever-distant on the horizon, and that Parker and Claire will sit down to a turkey tomorrow in their house by the lake, the quiet and peace of the winter evening broken only by the calls of geese. A knife and gun are, ever, close to hand, but the knife is for carving the turkey, and the gun is for another day, another problem.

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