Monday, July 14, 2014

Three Westlake tidbits

We are now less than two months away from the moment when Donald Westlake's The Getaway Car arrives and starts shipping out to stores! Can you feel the excitement building?

I'm being silly, but the nice thing is that the excitement actually is building, at least in a small way. The starred review in Publishers Weekly was followed last week by a rave in the newest issue of Kirkus:
University of Chicago Press promotions director Stahl thinks this collection of Westlake’s nonfiction will please his fans; it’s likely these sharp, disarmingly funny pieces will also create new ones. . . . Westlake kept a list of possible book titles [which is included in the book], the last of which was Read Me. It would have been just the right one for this bright, witty book.
Can't ask for much better, can you? On top of that, both Ed Gorman and Bill Crider had nice things to say on their blogs, which you can find at the embedded links. And now I wait, as patiently, I hope, as I've counseled authors I've worked with to do.

I've got two more Westlake tidbits to share with you tonight as I attempt to ease back into reliable blogging now that my summer of travel is finally finished. The first came to me from that Omnipresent Wisconsin Librarian Dave Lull: a quote from the Dortmunder novel Jimmy the Kid is used as an opening example in a delightful piece at the Dabbler on Pavement Panto. What, you ask, is Pavement Panto? I'll let Brit, the author of the post, explain:
Pavement Panto refers to those contrived actions one performs to mask, disguise or somehow ‘cover for’ any public behaviour about which one feels awkward or obscurely embarrassed, often for an entirely imagined audience.
Brilliant, no? Is there anyone who isn't guilty of a bit Pavement Panto once in a while? And Westlake, as the example from Jimmy the Kid shows, had a great eye for it:
Well, he couldn’t keep walking north forever. At the next corner he stopped, looked indecisive, then patted himself all over, pantomiming a search for some small but necessary object. In a large elaborate movement, he snapped his fingers, suggesting the sudden realization that the small but necessary object had been left behind; at home, perhaps. He then turned around and walked the other way.
Last thing for today comes from my ongoing trek through all of Westlake's work. I'm down to four or five, and over the weekend I read Philip (1967), a book that's always intrigued me simply because in lists of Westlake's work, it occupies its own category: Juvenile. And that's actually what it is: a children's book, with illustrations by Arnold Doblin. It's a gentle story (perhaps unexpectedly so, given its author) about a boy in a Manhattan apartment who gets a new dump truck and is looking for some dirt to play with. While grime may be plentiful in Manhattan, dirt, however, is relatively hard to come by. Hijinks--of a muted, kid-friendly sort--therefore ensue. It's a charming book, one that I could easily imagine kids and parents enjoying.

The best moment for a Westlake fan, however, is the following paragraph. Read it and see if you don't hear Westlake's voice coming through clear as ever:
But something was wrong. And Philip knew what it was.


The main point about a dump truck, it's supposed to carry dirt. You put it down on the ground, and the scoop picks up big mouthfuls of dirt and fills up the truck, and then you push the button and the truck drives across the yard to where you want to move the dirt, and then you push the other button and the back of the truck lifts up and all the dirt slides out. That's what a dump truck does.
It's all there: a preference for order and function and suitable work, in the midst of a slightly exasperated realization that what the world is in reality is one big mess of mismatches and problems. Westlake to a T.


  1. Kirkus usually is way more hard to please than PW. What's next? WashPost and NY Times?

  2. That's the hope, Ray. Given that I do book publicity for a living, I know as well as anyone how much of a crapshoot it can be, but I do know that there are galleys in the hands of people who write regularly for the NYT, WSJ, LA Times, and Washington Post who are big Westlake fans, so I'm hopeful!