Thursday, August 06, 2009

Life lessons from Donald Westlake

From Donald E. Westlake's Bank Shot (1972):
"Just because you've been working a con," Kelp said, "you figure everybody else is too."

"That's right," Dortmunder said.
Reading the second novel in Donald Westlake's Dortmunder series today, I was reminded of the fact that Westlake's books can in some ways serve as dramatized self-help or advice books: the Parker novels are better than any of poor Richard's aphorisms at conveying the virtues of hard work and dedication, while the Dortmunder novels . . . well, they're more like that class of self-help books that patiently teaches you how to cope with the world when everyone and everything seems to be conspiring to drive you insane. There's lots of counting to ten, or even to twenty:
Dortmunder had learned patience at great cost. The trial and error of life among human beings had taught him that whenever a bunch of them began to jump up and down and about at cross-purposes, the only thing a sane man could do was sit back and let them sort it out for themselves. No matter how long it took. The alternative was to ttry to attract their attention, either with explanations of the misunderstanding or with a return to the original topic of conversation, and to make that attempt meant that sooner or later you too would be jumping up and down and shouting at cross-purposes. Patience, patience; at the very worst, they would finally wear themselves out.
The risk of taking the time to count to ten, of course, is that it's always possible that by the time you get to eight, Parker will have sneaked in and taken all your stuff.

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