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The medium and the message?

June 17, 2008 |  5:50 pm

I first read Denis Johnson's "Angels" when I was in graduate school in Amherst, Mass., the novel having been loaned to me by someone housesitting for an older professor. I was only 23 and blown away. I knew all those people in "Angels," though I wished I hadn't grown up with them, and I was stunned that someone had written a novel so deeply immersed inside their heads.

So reading this first installment of "Nobody Move" is strange because, once again, we're completely immersed, and it's a good thing. Since I've been reading a lot of noir lately — my favorite being that of Ross Macdonald, Walter Mosley and now Raymond Chandler, because of Judith Freeman's fine nonfiction book about him — this was perfect.

And it's so damn funny. The dialogue is funny, perfect just like Chandler's. The details are hilarious — the log motel and the restaurants and the river.

But I agree with several things Carolyn and David have pointed out. First, why can't we see the scene where Luntz shoots Gambol? Why would Gambol have been on that kind of ride and let him put the gun in the glove compartment in the first place? (Again, I wish I didn't know people like this, or rides like this.) If Gambol's supposed to be too tired to do it right, I'd like to know.

Second, the whole serialization thing is strange. I love the way the headline trumpets On Deadline!  Publishing History Begins Now.

But not really, given Dickens and Hardy and so many others, including the recent novels serialized in the New York Times Magazine.

Anyway, a month will pass, and I'll read again passionately, because I love Johnson and his style and his inimitable humor, which is beyond black and into some other netherworldly shade. But I probably will have to keep this story around.

Which brings me to Richard's comment about his son wanting the magazine. Yeah, only I live in a house with three feminist teenage girls, all of whom are taller than me. All very beautiful. All of whom gave me the most dubious, deadly looks when I mentioned that inside the FedEx envelope was Playboy. "I tell my grad students some of the best fiction in history has been published in Playboy," I said. "We just read a T.C. Boyle story in class that was originally in here."

They gave me the classic teenage answer. "Why?" Deadpan.

When I showed the cover to them (one is a college girl who reads Details, Esquire and about 10 other magazines and whose favorite magazine in the world is GQ), they all said quizzically, "People still read that?"   

I cut the story out and threw the rest of the pages away, mostly because the  cartoons were so bad. But I can't wait to see what happens with Anita. She's way better than a cartoon.

Susan Straight