Tuesday, August 05, 2008
The new George Pelecanos: first thoughts and a question
I'm reading The Turnaround, the new novel by George Pelecanos, and have a few comments to start off with--plus I have a question for other readers. First, I started reading Pelecanos's books about the time his third novel came out, and I thought then and still think that the early novels, the Stefanos series and Shoedog, were a brilliant update of noir, crime, and pulp fiction, completely rooted in place (the D.C. area). After those early novels, Pelecanos found his true subject: American men from their 20s to their 50s who are trying to live up to (or outlive) their fathers' expectations. And it is definitely men's voices that his novels portray. There are women in the books, but they're only portrayed in their relation to men, and even the narrator's voice (always in the third person) is an interior monologue from the male characters' point of view. That's not necessarily a flaw, it's just where Pelecanos's particular universe is located. And location is my question for other readers: I live a mile or two from Pelecanos, though I've never met him. Every day, I drive or take the Metro through Pelecanos country: the streets and highways of Washington DC and Montgomery County Maryland (particularly Silver Spring, an unincorporated "urban district" in the county). One of the special pleasures of reading Pelecanos's books is seeing my own neighborhood(s) through his eyes, in the context of a crime novel. Typically, I know the streets he's describing, can even pinpoint the location of, for instance, the Pappas and Sons coffee shop that's an important part of The Turnaround. My question is, do other readers find the "placed" or quality of being rooted in a place to be an essential part of reading Pelecanos's stories? And are there other takes on the basic dramatic situation that he returns to again and again, that search for the proper place of a male human being in the culture of America in the mid 20th and early 21st century?