This is part of a larger though process in crime/pulp fiction that I’ve been having not so seriously for the last four years. I started reading 361 by Donald Westlake last night. He’s the guy that wrote Payback (which the Mel Gibson movie is based on [which is apparently being re-released on DVD with the original badass version intact]).
Not surprisingly, 361 touches on some of the same themes, namely, revenge. Thirty pages in, we have everything set up. Two brothers. The oldest brother’s wife is dead. Their father is dead. Both murdered. Apparently dad was a lawyer for bootleggers back in the day. Protagonist is the younger brother and he is just out of the Air Force. GO!
That’s it. I thought there would be more backstory as to how or why the protag is such a badass. Nope. He just is. Same with the older brother. They beat on a guy for information like it’s what you do everyday. No explanation.
See, this is a big for me. It’s always been a bit of a barrier, and maybe its all mental for me. However, I always wanted to plan that stuff out better when telling the story – why is the guy a complete badass? Isn’t there a reason? How does one research this sort of thing?
Westlake breezes into it and you don’t even care about the ‘how’ or the ‘why.’ The Syndicate killed his dad; he’s going to kill them. End of story.
Maybe that is all you need sometimes when you are telling a tight genre story. Maybe it’s that easy (look at Apocolypto for what it is – a minimalist action movie heavy on spectacle). Or maybe as crime fiction writers moved on, there was a demand for more back story, and after reading a lot of modern stories, 361 seems refreshingly stark and minimal.
I caught Factotum this weekend (thanks Netflix) not expecting a whole lot. I’m a Bukowski fan, and I would think it is hard to enjoy his stories translated to the screen. To me, it isn’t the subject matter; that is secondary. I enjoy Bukowski for his minimalist writing.
However, I enjoyed the movie to its smokey fullest. Matt Dillon did a very good job capturing the character of Chinaski (Bukowski’s fictional alter ego), and while the the plot wasn’t exactly like the book, I enjoyed it a great deal. The payoff was the end for me, Chinaski sitting in an empty strip club, broke and philosophizing over narration:
If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives, jobs. And maybe your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery, isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance. Of how much you really want to do it. And you’ll do it, despite rejection in the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods. And the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.
It’s part of why I like reading Bukowski so much, because I feel all of those things at times. I draw comics, one of the loneliest and least respected jobs on the planet. No one cares about you or your work really. It gets harder to get published every year. Names come and go, books get scheduled and cancelled the same week. Some webcomic kid makes a living on his merchandise but can’t draw for shit, and his fans love him for his terrible skills. I’m not sure why I do it. I know I might have a more well-rounded life by not doing it. Yet, I keep plugging away at something that not many understand, and so do a throng of others: working for a dream that doesn’t want us.
Reading Bukowski at age 18 made me want to be a writer maybe, or at least fantasize about it. Part of me wonders what it would be like if I self-published serial fiction online, fiction about working in comics, about stories I’ve heard and witnessed, the pure joy and tragedy of the thing. If I used a Chinaski of myself, me but not me.
That might be something…
Holy crap, I had no idea, but apparently they made a movie about John Fante. I’ve read Wait Until Spring, Bandini; it was one of my favorites. Holy crap, they got Colin Farrell to play him. What the…?!
I will most likely re-read Wait Until Spring, Bandini this weekend. How odd. I’d have that book laying out, people would ask me about it, and try as I might I could not end up sounding like a book snob describing it. Despite my inability to sum it up, rest assured it is a good read by a good writer. Fante, along with Bukowski and a host of others I was reading around that time, made me want to be a writer of some sort, or at least I enjoyed daydreaming about being a writer. Click-clacking on a typewriter, alone with a loosened tie and a bottle of bourbon in a hotel room. The vision contained a certain romance that appealed to me as an introverted young man in my early 20s.
Having had to shut myself away to produce a big work like a novel (or graphic novel in my case), it feels a bit like a sad prison.
You can also browse through the Parlor archives.
Keep up to date with my email newsletter. Newsletters are sent at least quarterly.
Stay up to date with my Feed in your favorite newsreader!
Check out who is linking to me with my Technorati Profile.