Sunday, April 05, 2009

Slammer -- Al Guthrie

We've had noir, and now we we have neo-noir, so there must have been proto-noir, right?  Some people would argue for Oedipus Rex as the best proto-noir, but I like Medea, myself.  The ultimate femme fatale and the ultimate slow-witted guy who falls for her, with disastrous consequences.

But to get to a little more recent example, let's look at Hawthorne's "Young Goodman Brown."  We get one of the bleaker endings in fiction, but along with it we get something more.  An unreliable narrator.  At the end of the story, we don't know what really happened.  Was Faith faithful?  Is everybody hiding a secret sin?  Did YGB see and hear what he thinks he saw and heard, or did he just dream it all?

Which brings me, in my usual roundabout way, to Allan Guthrie's latest, Slammer.  Nick Glass is a prison guard, and the whole story's told from his point of view.  Nick's no hero, just a guy trying to make it in his low-end job.  (I've known any number of prison guards, and I even have something to say on the subject.  Too bad I didn't write a book.)  Glass is not unlike YGB, who goes out to meet the Devil in a forest.  When the man YGB meets says they've gone only a little way into the forest, YGB says, "Too far.  Too far."  Or something like that.  I'm going by memory here.  Anyway, Nick is persuaded to do a favor for one of the tougher prisoners.  Like YGB, he thinks he can go only a little way and then turn back. Or at least save himself.  Fat chance.

So one thing leads to another, and then . . . . And then Guthrie pulls the rug out, though he's set it up earlier.  I've said enough about that, I think.  You can find out the rest for yourself.

This book's not as violent as some of Guthrie's earlier work, but it's plenty violent.  The prose is pared down so there's very little description of the prison or anything else.  There are no characters you're going to like or identify with, but you can empathize, which is what matters.  This is potent stuff that stretches the boundaries of crime fiction.  Check it out.


pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks for the Hawthorne mention too. I want to read that.

Anonymous said...

See, that's the beauty of Bill's blog - you get a free "classic lit" lkesson along with the noir review!

Can't beat that.


Dave Zeltserman said...

Bill, kind of funny bringing up Hawthorne as a "more recent" example. Anyone looking for it, you should be able to find it free online (as well as other great stuff, like a complete collection of Poe).