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Mastering the situation

July 31, 2008 |  3:48 pm


I really thought the second installment was going to be the problem one, but, as David has noted, Denis Johnson sails through without a hitch.

In his neat little book on Dickens, G.K. Chesterton (himself no mean hand at the thriller, the detective story and all manner of genre narrative) noted that Dickens, as his career went along, became a master of pace and delay. Rather than just piling everything in, and throwing ever more narrative logs on the fire (the equivalent of Chandler having men come through the door with guns in their hands), Dickens gained the confidence to take his time. And that's what Johnson is doing here. There's not much action in this installment but a lot more situation and character depth and, as David says, really sizzling dialogue.

(what surprised Richard Rayner, after the jump)

Johnson surprised me by keeping Gambol in the nurse's care, and then the nurse's arms, all the way along, and the Anita-Luntz relationship develops very nicely. These are characters who feel more real, and more dimensional, than we have the right to expect from pulp. Except that this is pulp written by Denis Johnson, of course, and set so firmly in the world of trailers and bars that he's evoked so well and with depth elsewhere. Here is a stunning description of Anita's husband: "He simply had this way about him that suggested it was his party and the human race was lucky to be his guest." It's a perfect description of the con man, the serial adulterer or, indeed, your average movie producer — the kind of character Willam Blake referred to as the "devourer."

Anita has blistering putdowns and is becoming a sexual force and threat. I agree with Carolyn about some of the sloppy plotting. They got back into that Cadillac a little too easily, and the Sol-Solly betrayal ... well, we all saw it coming a mile off. But then, as said, this felt like an episode where he was more concerned about building depth and suspense than anything else. I'm still in, big-time — in fact, I liked this much better than the first episode.

Richard Rayner

Photo by Lynne Coulombe via Flickr