Saturday, November 30, 2013

The Long-Legged Fly (James Sallis, 1992)

James Sallis wrote a foreword to Derek Raymond's He Died with his Eyes Open which I really liked. It is good and honest text, full of (deserved) admiration for that strange novel. So that aroused a bit of curiosity in me, together with the fact that he also wrote a Chester Himes' biography which is now pretty high on my to-do list. I've heard of Sallis before of course and have seen his books in bookstores but somehow never got around to read any of his stuff. At least I wasn't sure about it until I have read The Long-Legged Fly. Now I know for sure that I haven't read him because I would surely have remembered such brilliant and unique style of writing.

And this one is also a bit strange. By form and overall feeling it is definitely hard boiled noir-ish stuff. But instead on crime(s) it concentrates entirely on its protagonist. We follow PI Lew Griffin, who specializes (I think) in missing persons cases through the various stages of his life and career spanning from years 1964 to 1970, following an episode in 1984 and finally concluding in 1990. Author doesn't really bother to explain what made our guy successful in one period or what drove him into the alcohol and gutter in another. Individual cases are not related and also not very complicated (or coherent if I'm completely honest) and again, author doesn't even seem to be interesting in plotting.

Sounds strange and disjointed, but it's anything but. At least once you realize that this is not about whodunnit at all. It's masterclass in writing, characterization, atmosphere creating, treating people (and readers) honesty and with respect. Clever and thoughtful stuff that - at least for me - was hardly a page turner. Quite opposite in fact as I've read it slowly in the evenings with a cup of tea and not on the bus on my way to work. Just wanted to enjoy it as long as possible, absorb it and let it sink under my skin.

So my only complaint about it would be that it's too short.



Lew Griffin, PI

New Orleans

Body count: 3

Vicky, the Scottish nurse and LaVerne, his lifelong friend/partner

Third part (year 1984) starts with "Light: it slammed into my eyes like fists". But we soon learn that he'd just awoken after a binge drinking (the air reeked of alcohol). Still this can be at least partly considered as unconscious as we all know how bad those hangovers can be, right?

It was pretty much WTF title until I had asked uncle Google about it and he explained it to me that this was the title of one of Yeats' poems. You can listen to it here and try to decipher it if you feel like it. But then again, maybe it's not about this poem at all because Sallis plays in a band called Three-Legged Dog so it's possible that he has some weird fixations about animal legs? Nah, just kidding;)

Nice one, always cool to see air conditioner (or elevator) as a metaphor of descent into darkness. Or am I just imagining things and it just means that it's pretty fucking hot in Lew Griffin's New Orleans?

Cool lines:  
We are not angels, Lew. Angels couldn't breathe the air down here. They'd die.[The Coolest!]

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