Skip to main content

The Difference by Charles Willeford

The Canongate Crime Classics series was something I invested in a few years back, with authors like Boris Vian (I Spit on Your Graves), Chester Himes (Cotton Comes to Harlem) and John Franklin Bardin making up some of the most intensely readable and enjoyable crime writers of their times. Charles Willeford has a couple of spots on the list, with Shark Infested Custard the other title represented, and having read that and Miami Blues, a Hoke Mosely novel, I can endorse Elmore Leonard's assertion that "No one writes a better crime novel than Charles Willeford." However, The Difference is not a crime novel in the sense that a bookstore might classify it. It lacks a detective, and our protagonist is certainly not on the right side of whatever law existed at the turn on the 20th century in Arizona. What we have here would be better described as a western, but might unfairly be judged on such a label.

A quick plot summary for those curious about such things: a young man is swindled out of his inheritance and seeks retribution and justice whilst coming of age. But all is not as it seems. Johnny Shaw is a grasping, devious git, with little concept of honour and quite willing to shoot a man in the back. Willeford has exposed the myth of the noble cowpoke as just that - a myth - and this is what makes this such a great, if quick, read. Shaw enjoys watching his skin harden as he makes the transformation from wronged citizen to outlaw, taking pleasure in the killing of his enemies and, in the denouement, creating his own legend as lethal hired gun. That he doesn't succeed in killing all those who "wronged" him is not down to lack of desire or ability, rather disgust that they are not worth killing in the end.

Willeford's pen has created a character who, although sympathetic to start with, by the end of the novel is not truly worthy of sympathy. Lacking mercy, honour and morals, Shaw is nonetheless an intriguing character, and this is Willeford's triumph.

Comments

How's about that then?

Damned If I Do by Percival Everett

Where I should be recovering from a particularly nasty stomach bug, rather I appear to be on a Percival Everett trip today - first Strom, now Damned - but he really is that good. Good as in read-everything-he's-written-now good. Good as in I'm writing this on my iPad never more than two meters from the nearest toilet good. That's good. 

Damned If I Do is short stories, yes. That I have a curious relationship with short fiction is undisputed, but there are some like Breece D'J Pancake and Haruki Murakami that just have to be read, objections or no. Thankfully, it appears Everett has inherited some of their ability to write convincing, understated and ultimately addictive snippets of prose. And snippets they are. Somewhere I read once a quote from China Mielville where he says he just loves it when writers don't show the reader the monster in its entirety, that leaving something of the horror to the imagination of his audience adds a level of engagement and makes the …

A Death In The Family: My Struggle Volume 1 by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I sit here, wearing my limited edition Knausgaard t-shirt, immensely grateful to the kind people at Vintage Books for their surprising gift of the first four novels (and aforementioned t-shirt) simply as a result of being able to post a comment on their YouTube Vlog. There may have been a hidden agenda, considering I'm a book blogger (What, interrobang, a book blogger, interrobang and so on...) but I prefer to believe they picked me at random. Because I'm ace. 
Nonetheless, I had no idea what to expect of these books. I did do a little reading, and found lots of very interesting articles about Karl Ove Knausgaard, including this entertaining one in the Wall Street Journal. But in all honesty, nothing prepared me for reading them, and I can see why they cause controversy and consternation wherever they are translated (which is pretty much everywhere).
First off, being intelligent and perspicacious readers as I trust you all to be, you will no doubt have spotted the whole Godwin&#…

Breakfast Of Champions by Kurt Vonnegut

In days gone by, when repeatedly pressed about what my favourite book might be, a banal question seeking an impossible and crude reductionist answer to which I was usually rude in response, I would offer Breakfast Of Champions as a pacifier. 

I first read it in University, and it has, to some degree, influenced how I think and feel about a lot of things. Strikingly, I've never wanted to re-read it. Perhaps I was afraid I'd find fault the second time around and wanted to uphold it as a paragon of meta-fiction. Perhaps, but then I'm a relentless consumer of fiction and was always on to the next consumable work, never having time or inclination to go back.

So in the spirit of a more considered and thoughtful phase of my life I decided I wanted to read something that once made me feel good.

I'd clearly not remembered it very well.

But before that, I'm amazed I've gone *mumbles* years without once mentioning Kilgore Trout in my reviews, even in passing. The same goes fo…

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…