A weblog dedicated to noir fiction and film, music, poetry and politics.
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
George Pelecanos’s The Way Home
I'm finally settled here in France and ready to blog again. Since arriving the book that’s most impressed me is George Pelecanos’s The Way Home. For me, Pelecanos’ last two novels have helped put crime fiction on another, more socially responsible, level. These novels-The Turnaround and, most recently, The Way Home- are about boys growing up into men, as well as how men respond to one another and the world around them. His latest also addresses issues surrounding the penal system for young offenders and illustates how good things can sometimes come out of bad situations (prison, however brutal, can also be a place where, if lucky, one can discover oneself and find friendship), and how bad things can often come out of apparently good situations (middle class famlies producing wayward sons and daughters). Call it part of the post-Bush era, but Pelecanos work shows that crime writers are responsible for what put on paper. As Pelecanos has pointed out, what one writes cannot help but create ripples in the culture that affects others. Gratuitous violence, no matter how much it occurs in the world, is never all that interesting except in regards to its backstory. Likewise, most killers and people of violence are pathetic individuals that hardly need celebrating. The idea that depicting such violence is acceptable so long as the crimes are eventually punished is addressed in The Way Home, when a writer and former inmate returns to the juvenile prison where he was once incarcerated to give an inspirational talk to the young men imprisoned there. One of the older guards offers the view that for seventeen chapters the author gives the reader one violent scene after another, then comes to a moral position in the final chapter, which, he says few will read or even care about. While his last two novels are carefully written treatises on issues of family, class and race, these subjects have, in fact, been Pelecanos’s as far back as A Firing Offense, Shoedog and The Big Blowdown, though in such an obvious and intense manner. Maybe working alongside the likes of David Simon, Ed Burns, Richard Price, etc., on The Wire has focused his writing, framing the moral content around a rapid-fire plotline. In many ways, I’ve always thought crime fiction by Pelecanos and perhaps Walter Mosley would be ideal reading for adolescent males, to give them an idea of how to conduct themselves and what the world is like. In any case, Pelecanos’s last two novels are, for me, amongst the most interesting and important crime fiction being written at the moment, and proof that these are the work of a mature novelist who seeking to contribute to a dialogue that has become more pressing than ever to engage in.
London-based journalist and author of Pulp Culture: Hardboiled Fiction and the Cold War; Neon Noir: Contemporary American Crime Fiction; and Heartbreak and Vine: The Fate of Hardboiled Writers in Hollywood.