Monday, September 30, 2013

"Gascoyne" by Stanley Crawford

Instead of putting his anti-hero Gascoyne behind the wheel of a "Kaiser," author Stanley Crawford might have made a clearer statement by opting for a "Rambler" instead.

For ramble indeed is what the author's main character and first-person narrator does for 245 pages of "Gascoyne."

This is an elder scoundrel who pulls the strings via corruption in a metropolis hard to place on the map until the very end when we learn Gascoyne is leaving town for the desert. It's black comedy and Gascoyne is hard to root for, even when today's television fare can hook you into siding with Tony Soprano ("The Sopranos"), Don Draper ("Mad Men") or Walter White ("Breaking Bad").

The set-up is simple enough. Gascoyne gets into an old car and begins tooling around the unnamed burg under his tutelage, only to stumble into an apparent murder at the palatial home of a rival/business associate.

This triggers a long series of cruises, with a few different cars, throughout the city, which is bucking Gascoyne's crooked authority even as he shambles around trying to solve the mystery murder. Are we sad? Perhaps. Gascoyne is hardly likeable, but the people out to uproot him appear even worse.

The presentation is slapstick. You follow the effusive narrator from one outrageous and impossible situation to another. You may find the give-and-take funny, you might not.

Here's a bit this reviewer liked:

"He sees me and says, 'All right drop your gun GASCOYNE.'

Which is really my line he's stealing..."

And here's a passage that will give you the tone of the work while summarizing the essence of Gascoyne, The Man:

"I zip under the Turnpike Tollroad underpass but of course I'm not going to take the tollroad because I absolutely refuse to pay another cent to officials I'm subsidizing in other ways, so I keep on Clyde Hopkins Bird Sanctuary Road which angles back toward the center of town."

The author is, throughout, obviously unabashed and out to push buttons, but there's a lot that happens in "Gascoyne" that doesn't add to anything more than its length and somebody might have stepped in and shortened the old man's day for the good of the story.

It seems that neither plot nor cast of characters are developed enough to hold up the long and repetitive descriptions of mayhem or rudeness that are the book's stock and trade.

"Gascoyne" is a triumph of language over structure, a painting done with words rather than an analysis that marries them to thought or insight. Your liking or not liking it are tied mostly to whether you find what the protagonist has to say darkly mordant, or extended flight of fancy.

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