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A Rage in Harlem by Chester Himes

Often, intertextual inertia must give way to old promises and the making good thereof. In the case of Chester Himes, who I’d rescued from the clearance bin in Waterstone’s Cardiff before the summer, the paying of deserved respect was long overdue.
I have a very soft spot for genre fiction, particularly when the content is framed quite so elegantly as that of Chester Himes’ Harlem cycle. Apologists justifiably present him as the Black American literary complement to white contemporaries and genre luminaries Chandler and Hammett, and from a personal perspective, his marriage of svelte prose and acute observation is as pleasing on the eye as anything from either author or other renowned pulp novelists like John D MacDonald. To my mind, Himes is particularly tasty bubble-gum for the brain.
Of the verisimilitude of his characters I cannot comment. Harlem in the forties and fifties is as far removed from Cardiff in the ‘teens as I can possibly imagine (I sell myself short of course, but you get the picture) but I am reliably informed that Grave Digger Jones and Coffin Ed Johnson are two astonishing but not unlikely examples of the contemporaneous Harlem police detective; the shoot first, question later (if at all) type, not averse to slapping a woman to the floor if rage or the situation dictates. Jackson, Himes’ erstwhile eponymous protagonist (the novel has been known by the title “The Five-Cornered Square”) is a wonderfully effete character, beguiled and bedevilled by con artist and contrary “high yeller woman” Immabelle, and subject to the whims of pretty much every hoodlum and racketeer in the district, including his own brother Goldy, a stool-pigeon and nun-impersonating hop-head.
Reading back through this review, I notice that my usual blend of mellifluous prose (You at the back! Stop that sniggering!) and slightly jaded and crumbly bitterness is oddly absent. I honestly don’t know why, but if you must press for an answer, I would reply that I can’t always be the joker, and that some subjects are worth serious consideration; admittedly, perhaps, not the stylized scribbling of a ex-con, but then I’m having one of those days where my sense of humour seems to have slid down the curtain and joined the choir invisible. Indeed, I must even resort to Monty Python quotes for a cheap laugh. Still, you may benefit from a more studied and sober text, and so revision will be left to the social historians. Who will read this like a gospel of truth, of course.
There’s plenty of social commentary rumbling along beneath the overt racial tension and criminal violence, and like Chandler and Hammett, Himes’ style allows the reader to plug the gaps left for interpretation, engaging the faculties of his audience and making for a satisfying if quick read. If you’ve not dipped into crime fiction before, you could do worse that start at Chester Bomar Himes. A whole lot worse. But if you’re looking to broaden your understanding of modern Black American writing, I’d advise that you start with Ralph Ellison or Tony Morrison and go from there.


How's about that then?

Free Fall In Crimson by John D. MacDonald

Trav is back, still grieving the loss of some chickadee or other whose death almost knocked him off his game, but not too shook up to set himself up with a few more lucky lovelies whilst tripping his way through another overly complicated and rather sordidly underwhelming plot. This time, some bikers are making dirty movies with minors on the set of a future classic hot-air-balloon movie. Travis falls into the action because a rich old geyser carks it in unusual circumstances and it affects the trust fund of a former marina-mate. And hirsute intellectual Meyer wets his pants towards the end. 

You may sense a fatigued, sardonic note in my precis. It's not that I don't still love John D., it's just that after embarking on the long game that is reading the entire Travis McGee oeuvre, I'm approaching the end and it feels long overdue. It's been fun, it's been enlightening, but it's also been a schlep. With the realisation I might now have fewer years left to me …

Metaliterature - what meaning to have is this for meaning?

Not a review this time, more of a curiosity. It seems I'm receiving lots of hits from Russia (Здравствуйте России!) from people searching for the definition of "metaliterature". As such, it is something of a bespoke word, created to fit a need and probably not yet recognized outside literary theory / criticism circles (Merriam-Webster Online certainly don't like it). I was wondering what they typed in to end up here, so, for fun (it's not fun, sorry) I thought I'd bung it in Google Translate and see what came out. As it turns out, one needs a little hyphen for the rather ponderous machine to understand it, and even then only does half the job (meta seems to be meta in any language). 
Incidentally, below is, ironically, a Google Chrome Thesaurus definition* of "meta":

met·a Adjective/ˈmetə/
(of a creative work) Referring to itself or to the conventions of its genre; self-referentialInterestingly (not interesting, sorry) it says this for the full term, t…

The Lost Time Accidents by John Wray

Fup by Jim Dodge

If there was a comfort-food version of a book for me, then this would be it. It's funny, touching, humanistic, and features so many quotable quotes that its trim 120 pages could be represented in its entirety on some such authors' quotations page.

We're introduced to Tiny on the occasion of his mother's death, lured into a treacherously fatal situation by, of all things, a duck, while her 4-year-old son sleeps in the car where he wakes to a terrifying solitude. Meanwhile, we're treated to a potted but entertaining history of Granddaddy Jake, Tiny's grandfather, into whose care by fair means or foul (no pun intended) he is finally placed. But the titular Fup duck comes along only once Tiny is fully grown (and how!). A lost and lonely duckling, much like Tiny, she's discovered shivering in a freshly dug post hole, which betrays the attention paid to it by Tiny's nemesis, a wild hog called Lockjaw, who enjoys tearing up Tiny's fences just as much as he …