Thursday, August 04, 2005

Button men

Just read James Lee Burke's latest Dave Robicheaux novel, Crusader's Cross. A super-enjoyable read. It's funny, these books are 95% sublime but every twenty pages or so descend into a kind of silliness that I find perversely endearing--I think the books would be better with a really ruthless editor (I am notoriously intolerant of lyrical writing), but obviously this is all weirdly part of their appeal. Rather than try to explain further, I'll give a few of my favorites:

Her hair and skin smelled like the ocean, or the smell a wave full of seaweed gives off when it bursts on hot sand. Then somewhere down below a coral shelf a mermaid winked a blue eye at me and invited me to come and rest inside a pink cave where she lived.

That afternoon I was at Wal-Mart and had one of those experiences that make me wonder if our commonality lies less in our humanity than the simple gravitational pull of the earth and a grave that is already dug and numbered.

Those who live with insomnia and who consider sleep both an enemy and a gift will understand the following. Some of us cannot comprehend how anyone except the very good or those who have no conscience at all can sleep from dark to dawn without dreaming or waking. We hear William Blake's tiger padding softly through a green jungle, his stripes glowing, his whiskers spotted with gore. Psychoanalysis does no good. Neither does a health regimen that induces physical exhaustion. The only solution that is guaranteed is the one provided by our old friend Morpheus, who requires our souls into the bargain.

As he stood framed against a washed-out sky, his eyes devoid of any humanity that I could detect, his nose wrinkling slightly, I wondered if he wasn't in fact the liege lord of Charon, his destroyed voice box whispering in the blue-collar dialect of the Irish Channel while he eased his victims quietly across the Styx.


It's just the kind of writing that makes me so dissatisfied with certain classic noir fiction, a kind of over-the-top high seriousness that seems to me unsustainable in the first-person voice. Yet the books are spectacularly well worth reading, I seize upon every one that comes my way. (Or if you're a purist you could get James Sallis's Cypress Grove instead, it's got a similar vibe to Burke's books only it's written in the most beautiful prose you will ever see--pretty much exactly to my tastes, anyway.)

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