Block - Small Town

March 18, 2005

Lawrence Block
Small Town
New York: Harper Torchbooks, 2003

This is a post 9/11 novel. Literally, the core events of the book are driven by the memory and legacy of the disaster. I won't give too many of those details, as it would spoil the "what in the WORLD is goin on here?" that starts the book, but Block opens with a character looking at the hole in the sky where the towers used to be.

It is also unlike every other Lawrence Block book that I have started: I finished it and read it voraciously. I have opened another half-dozen or so of his novels and never gotten more than a hundred pages into any of them.

The difference is that here is characters are, hmm, not less contrived because several of them are quite contrived, but less of the novel depends on the reader getting into the head of a particular contrived character. Let me try again. Most of Block's novels involve one of three characters: Matthew Scudder, Tanner, or whats-his-name the burglar. They all depend on the reader identifying with or at least careing about the main character. And I can't stand any of those three guys. On the other hand Small Town is more of an ensemble cast: the novelist, the retired police chief, the killer, the half-crazy art gallery owner. Each of these characters is a grotesque, exagerrated to make a point about the small town that is New York City, as are many of the supporting characters, but the grotesque is written from a sympathetic perspective. Block likes these people, and that love of the city and its quirks shows through the book.

The novel itself is a potboiler about how people respond to tragedy. Some work through it, like the housecleaner who opens the story. Others go either a little crazy - the art gallery owner - or a lot crazy. But they are all affected by the tragedy.

I read this in one great gulp. I do not know if it was good or if it was simply to my taste, but I read it.

Oh, and I kept wondering if the author character was Block's Mary Sue, no, not quite a Mary Sue because it is his own world that he has introduced an idealized self into. I was reminded of Hemingway's writer characters, and how Papa wrote about frustrated geniuses drinking heavily every afternoon. The writer in this novel starts out going slowly on a book, but soon gets an idea and goes great gangbusters on a reworking of an older short story into a morally ambiguous novel. He also has a line that stuck with me, and that I want to write about over on the main blog. Talking about spending time teaching writing he says something like: some of them knew how to write, and all they needed was a little structure and encouragement. The rest, well, at least they were writing. The implication is that writing is a binary skill, you either have it or you don't, and if you don't then you will never get it, and if you do then all you need is a little structure. I go back and forth on how I agree and disagree with that statement. More on that later.

Posted by Red Ted at March 18, 2005 02:50 PM | TrackBack
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